The Covid-19 virus has succeeded in what the deadliest and most notorious terror organizations of the world have not. The terror of this virus has frightened Governments, countries, and almost the whole of mankind on this planet. Yes, the virus and its inflicted disease are real and so is the necessity to take prevention and maintain hygiene, social distancing, and other means as encouraged by the health organizations. In the absence of a vaccine so far, prevention is considered the only way out, apart from boosting immunity and maintaining social distancing.
However, the fear of the virus though it has affected more than 7,238,307 globally seems to have waned down! In the USA, where the virus count hit a new high last Sunday with more than 3,000 cases reported in a single day, is now seeing a wave of protests with hundreds and thousands taking to streets against police violence and racial injustice. Italy, once the epicenter in Europe is now seeing debates in Parliament that the number of deaths reported due to Covid-19 may not be correct as a lot of deaths were caused due to other diseases. New Zealand is already in euphoria claiming that they have defeated the virus and that there is a case of infection anymore! Thailand, whose tourism is boosted by a large number of Chinese travelers and the first to report a virus case outside of China, has already planned to position itself as a ‘trusted’ destination for tourism.
In India, the virus’s fear had led to an immediate and unplanned national lockdown called by the government. This has been leading to a deterioration of the economy, creating woes for millions of poor and people ending up only staying indoors, either those fortunate working from home or a huge majority, living without a livelihood. The Government announced a complete lockdown in March, as Lockdown was accepted to be the only solution in other affected countries till then. The news coming in from Italy in late February and early March, was good enough to scare the world that the virus is not limited to Wuhan and its claimed origin. It was clear that it has spread everywhere. In fact, the WHO (World Health Organization) declared that it is a pandemic when there were less than 100 globally reported cases outside of China.
But herein lies some underlying questions – was Covid-19 a deadly enough disease for everyone to be declared a Pandemic and therefore to create total lockdowns everywhere?
The fact is there is indeed no vaccine for this virus, nor is there a known recognized treatment. The rate at which it moves from human to human is extremely high. But the news reports around the world are showing that all is not lost! The trends around the world show that out of the reported 3,254,104 currently Infected Patients globally, as on 9th June, 3,200,304 (98%) are in mild conditions (with many with no symptoms at all).
In India, out of 270,876 reported cases, 131,380 people have recovered already and most of them were asymptomatic. The death rate is close to 5 Deaths per 1 Million Population and as argued by doctors, almost all of the deaths due to Covid-19 in the country is due to comorbidity (presence of one or more additional conditions co-occurring with a primary condition) meaning that whoever died of Covid-19 also had other life-threatening illness that could have accelerated the causes to the death.
Now, if we take a step back and look at statistics of the previous year, infectious diseases or communicable diseases are not uncommon in India and we have seen severe cases several times. Acute respiratory infections also commonly called ‘viral fevers’ accounted for nearly 70 percent of illnesses from communicable diseases in India in 2018. In fact, The National Health Profile (NHP) 2019 has tabulated acute respiratory infections as the top communicable disease, making up 69.5 percent of recorded morbidity or illnesses in the country, followed by an acute diarrhoeal disease that accounted for 21.8 percent and typhoid 3.8 percent. Doctors had always viewed acute respiratory infections, likely caused by viruses, as largely self-limiting. In fact, this was not really considered a serious threat to the nation although the NHP 2019 had recorded 4,19,96,260 cases of acute respiratory infections with 3,740 deaths from it across India! In addition, the NHP 2019, based on datasets compiled by the Central Bureau of Health Intelligence, has accounted for 9,28,485 cases of and 4,213 deaths from pneumonia in the last year! These statistics clearly indicate that while there are reports of more than 4 crore Acute respiratory infections and pneumonia cases in the previous year (and with a death toll of about 8000), the situation with Covid-19 (another type of Acute respiratory infections) might have not even been taken so seriously (and hence no lockdowns or mass hysteria) in India. But only if WHO would have declared it pandemic or if the world had not been led to fear of the virus.
It is to be noted that after the fear of the virus was installed, the next phase (in WHO’s words) was “testing and more testing” to curb the virus spread. It was obvious that most countries, including India initially, did not have the capacity to build test kits of this new type of virus and had to depend on imports from other developed nations including China. Here, the quality of the test kits and their testing rates were highly debatable. In fact, the world came to a shock when Tanzania’s president declared that they had covertly tested swabs of animals and fruits, only to find those swabs positive with Covid-19! It is not clear whether it was the fault of the laboratory poor quality test kits in Tanzania, but almost every other country did start to complain about the quality of testing and PPE kits, especially those exported from China. This only led to more panic amongst the administrations and created fear for the frontline health workers.
As such, there are enough questions on China and WHO about hiding facts, misleading propaganda. Questions are raised about China hiding the details of the outbreak, which eventually let it spread globally. Questions are raised that the WHO did not act timely. While both China and WHO needs to be held accountable for the truth, there definitely needs to be a proper probe over not just China’s role and origin of the virus, but whether there was a deliberate attempt or an error in judgment that led to the creation of mass-panic amongst the nations about the virus leading to lock-downs. The symptoms of the virus are extremely common and anyone with a dry cough can create panic to others in the vicinity. The number of people who can have such symptoms would be in billions across a period of a couple of months, enough to suffocate the medical facilities in any country. While the doctors and healthcare professionals at the frontline are putting up with enough workload, it is also to be mentioned that the virus-induced situation has led to a lot of other patients not getting any support or timely medical treatment. Even Doctors in certain super specialty hospitals are reported to be ending up doing OPD work only. There was a sad report of pregnant women with Covid-19 like symptoms being denied treatment in eight hospitals and finally dying in a hospital without any treatment!
As law-abiding citizens in the current scheme of things, we can hope for a vaccine soon and need to follow protocols as laid down by the WHO and the government. But the current ‘Unlocks’ announced by the government has brought further questions. The lockdown was announced when there were a handful of Covid-19 cases across the country, to control the spread. But when the number of infections has crossed 250,000 and has become the fifth most affected in the world – the country is opening gradually! Understandably the economy has taken a halt and to revive this, the country needs to keep running with its business as usual, – but if this is the case why was the lockdown even announced so abruptly without any plan! India could have adopted the German model in handling this situation right from the beginning instead of trying to do damage control. The large organizations will sail through. Companies like Reliance Industries are now doing well in the stock market. But the downgrade of the economy in the lockdown times has hampered the MSME (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) sector the worst and the benefits announced by the Indian Government has very little to offer these affected sectors, except for loans!
In India, with doctors under advisory by the ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research), and with peoples’ dependence on the Government for both identification and treatment for Covid-19, the terror in people’s minds has already led to the beginning of mistrust. As such, definite and hard questions do need to be asked. Without blaming the usual drama of political divide, the Government and opposition, both need to unite to probe and answer these to the people it calls its own.
The opening may also mean that India is now slowly getting ready for Herd immunity, which is basically getting the human body to tame the virus itself. In other words, we may be now seeing community transmission with daily 10 thousand plus cases is already reported. But are we ready to take the risks with our children, elderly and those vulnerable is a question that people would ask within?
And if Community transmission and herd immunity is the solution being imposed or planned, was there a need to lockdown and adversely affect the economy? Or was this the greatest error in judgment the world made in modern times?