Occupational health responses to COVID-19: What lessons can we learn from SARS?J Occup Health. 2020 Jan; 62(1):e12128.JO
On 31 December 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) received reports of pneumonia cases of unknown etiology in the city of Wuhan in Hubei Province, China. The agent responsible was subsequently identified as a coronavirus-SARS-CoV-2. The WHO declared this disease as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern at the end of January 2020. This event evoked a sense of déjà vu, as it has many similarities to the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) of 2002-2003. Both illnesses were caused by a zoonotic novel coronavirus, both originated during winter in China and both spread rapidly all over the world. However, the case-fatality rate of SARS (9.6%) is higher than that of COVID-19 (<4%). Another zoonotic novel coronavirus, MERS-CoV, was responsible for the Middle East respiratory syndrome, which had a case-fatality rate of 34%. Our experiences in coping with the previous coronavirus outbreaks have better equipped us to face the challenges posed by COVID-19, especially in the health care setting. Among the insights gained from the past outbreaks were: outbreaks caused by viruses are hazardous to healthcare workers; the impact of the disease extends beyond the infection; general principles of prevention and control are effective in containing the disease; the disease poses both a public health as well as an occupational health threat; and emerging infectious diseases pose a continuing threat to the world. Given the perspectives gained and lessons learnt from these past events, we should be better prepared to face the current COVID-19 outbreak.