Monday, March 30, 2020
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Mantra for COVID-19: Behave or Perish

K B Jandial

With 21-day complete lockdown ordered by PM Modi to fight Coronavirus, India has literally come to a standstill. In a vibrant democracy like India people cherish freedom in many forms including movement form one place to another and it stands curtailed; but for the good of the people, albeit, survival. This is an extraordinary existential crisis, not experienced by our generation across the world. This is a testing time that demands patience, compliance of prescribed protocol and support to ward off this deadly infectious disease, declared pandemic by WHO.

People of India, albeit, across the globe were never so scary as they are today, not so even during two world wars, as rightly explained by PM in his first unusual address to the nation, or any other epidemic. He has rightly brought home the lurking danger over the people by saying that it is spreading very alarmingly. It took 67 days to infect COVID-19 to first one lakh people, 11days for second lakh of victims and just 4 days for the third lakh. Coronavirus’s geometrical progression with no drug or vaccine to cure is a cause to worry for people world over even though trials and R&D are claimed to be at advance stage in China and USA. President Trump has allowed Roche Medical Company to undertake trial of the vaccine which in millions of doses is reportedly ready for launch if trials are successful.

According to John Hopkins University data, coronavirus cases across 177 countries have reached 4.70-lakh with 21500 deaths as on March 26 and this number is alarmingly moving upward. The silver lining, however, is recovery of 1.16 lakh persons. Of 3.26 lakh cases still active, only 14797 cases are serious / critical while others have mild conditions. India has just over 600 positive cases with 13 deaths.

The new deadly virus originated in Wuhan, China’s port city & capital of Central Hubei province having 11 million population. Difficult to trust China with its non-transparent system, it revealed this disease to WHO only on 31st December, 2019 when many deaths presumed to have already occurred. Later, the experts shared with WHO the identification of virus, named 2019-nCov that belongs to Coronavirus family that included earlier detected virus, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) which in 2002 caused 813 deaths worldwide. The new virus was traced to a Wuhan’s seafood market that also sold live animals and caused unusual pneumonia. There are many theories about the outbreak of this new virus but China ruled out recurrence of SARS virus.

There are also conspiracy theories going around and someone mulling to take China to International Court of Justice for damages. One theory hints at its origination at a Chinese Government facility near Wuhan. At least, one video unfolds arrest of three academicians & researchers including one Professor of Harvard University who was getting US congressional funds for research but was found to have received lot of money from China for proscribed research work for China. Two others scholars arrested are Chinese including a researcher for cancer. Could it be a well-planned biological attack?

Be it that, the danger looms large on the world when none of the countries took it seriously. Coronavirus has transcended borders without passport and visa as it took the benefit of fast movement across the globe and “landed” in different countries through “unintended couriers”. Virus has travelled into over 177 countries without knocking at their border posts or immigration desks forcing a global medical emergency.

Among the countries affected by it, Italy with its advanced health care facilities is perhaps the worst affected with causalities o increasing fast everyday with its Prime Minister crying and helplessly leaving at the mercy of Almighty. Deaths in Italy (7503) & Spain (3647) have surpassed China (3293). China managed to check this disease by taking extraordinary and draconian steps for 3-month brutal lockdown, forced isolation and surveillance, giving damn to infringements of people’s rights, often heard from Human Rights activists. Being a communist nation, the regime was least bothered about people’s rights and harassment. WHO says that China’s action was unprecedented in public health history. But the results are discernible. A very few new cases are now coming and all new hospitals set up quickly for such victims have been shut down. Italy like many European countries woke up too late.

Transmission rate of a disease is indicated by its Reproductive Number (Ro, also called R-naught or R-zero) which represents the average number of people to whom a single infected person transmits this virus. WHO assessed this Ro at 1.4-2.5 on January 23, 2020 but other studies put it between 3.6-4.0 and 2.24- 3.58. Taking WHO’s conservative Ro, it means that the virus will spread in geometrical progression, 10 positive persons will infect other 14 to 25 persons and 100 will spread it to 140 to 250 persons and its progression would continue. WHO has put Its Mortality Rate at 3.4% and Hospital Mortality Rate at 15% with 2 to 14 days incubation period (time it takes for symptoms to appear) while China’s National Health Commission puts it at 10 to 14 days. During this period the virus is contagious but patient may or may not show any symptom (asymptomatic transmission). While people of all ages are infected by the coronavirus, older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions of asthma, diabetes & cardiac disease are more vulnerable. According to early estimates by NHC, about 80% of those who died in China were over the age of 60, and 75% of them had pre-existing health conditions such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

As a democracy, it is difficult in India to impose China type brutal quarantine but it is the only answer. The Govt has done its best and motivating people to follow protocol circulated on print and electronic media to reach the citizens in farthest corner of the country. The advisory is for all segments of population including those who are exposed to the virus like health workers, but the main mantra for the overwhelming majority is “stay home and maintain social distancing.”
The protocol is simple. Since COVID-19 starts with hands, so wash your hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based solution which kills viruses. It is very simple, but most important. The second important thing is to cover your nose and mouth with a bent elbow or tissue when you sneeze or cough and prevent spread of virus to people around you through their droplets. Dispose of tissue immediately safely and wash your hands. The protocol advises you to avoid touching your face, particularly your eyes, nose or mouth and prevent the virus from entering your body. Hands touch too many surfaces and can quickly pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your face, from where the virus can move inside your body, making you unwell. In order to avoid social interaction, advice is to stay at least one-metre distance from others and prevent breathing of any respiratory droplets in the event of sneezing or coughing. Any person having cough or sneezing should stay home and seek medical attention. And if necessary, wear a mask. If not wearing mask then cough or sneeze in to your covered elbow. Stay home with the family, frequent wash hands with soap or use alcohol based sanitizer with social distancing are best “combo-medicine” to ward off this disease.
PM Modi’s call for Janata Curfew on 22 March was a stunning success and the nation also expressed their gratitude to the COVID-19 warriors by clapping and beating thalis. It was taken as nation’s resolve to defeat the coronavirus by following the advisories of the administration. Modi perhaps conducted it as a trial while the people mistook it for 14 hours drill unmindful of long battle ahead and started moving out next day. The Govt slapped lockdown till 31st March, 2020 in 75 major cities in the country where positive cases were reported and subsequently PM ordered complete 21-day lockdown in entire India, warning that if not done it would lead to 21 years’ disaster. China’s lockdown was for 56 million people that ended this week and of Wuhan on April 8, India is doing for 130 crore for 21 days. There is no other option for the Govt since partial lockdown cannot serve the purpose. IMRC feels that by social distancing alone reduction of 62 % can be achieved.

The people should be ready for a long haul. Modi Govt is bracing up for this challenge on long term basis. As China created separate hospitals for COVID-19, India too started this exercise. Seven States & Jammu’s GMC have established dedicated hospitals for COVID-19 patients. Dr. Abhay Soi, Chairman Max Health Care has suggested conversion of major private hospitals for COVID-19 patents while other medical emergencies are handled by Govt facilities.
While WHO has appreciated India’s measures but it insisted testing of every suspected case. India has 118 Govt facilities where on an average 1250 tests for COVID-19 are being done daily while IMRC has approved 29 accredited private labs chain having 17000 collection centres across the country. In J&K, this facility is available in 4 Labs including one private lab-Dr. Lal Path. With this, the public access to testing in India has increased.
Disagreeing with many epidemiologists who have warned of months & years for stemming out this virus, Michael Levitt, a Nobel laureate & biophysicist who analyzed data from 78 countries, saw “signs of recovery.” He feels that the outbreak “may be winding down” even though “Numbers are still noisy, but there are clear signs of slowed growth” in South Korea. Credited with dot-on prediction of China “ending up around 80,000 cases with about 3245 deaths” 2013 Nobel laureate sees similar turning points in other nations, even by those who didn’t instill the draconian isolation that China did. He too calls for strong measures to fight the outbreak especially social distancing as the virus is new and warned that it can grow exponentially only when it is undetected, suggesting people must report the illness to check it from spreading. This point is reaffirmed by our Govt. in its advisory.
Not going by superstitions& myths but this view is supported Vedic astrology that predicted 31st March, 2020 as date when coronavirus would start weakening following “transit of Jupiter to Makar Rashi which is the Maarak Sthaan (destruction point) for Dhanu” It says that this problem has begun on 26th December, 2020 with the solar eclipse in Dhanu Rashi nakshatra & it is believed that its effect remains for three months. The Vedic prediction further predicts that the virus would start weakening from 13th April, 2020. Increasing summer temperature up to June, 2020 would further weaken the grip of coronavirus and finally ends on 23rd September, 2020 with “Ketu transiting to Scorpio, moving away from Mool nakshatra.”
There is neither any room for panic nor for complacency as the cases can shoot up any time as happened in Italy, especially when many people with travel history are still undetected and many shying from reporting their symptoms. Since our healthcare facilities are limited & under stress, any outbreak of cases at any time would be disastrous. So, convince yourself & convince others to behave and stay home & follow Govt advisory and thus extend untint support the Administration to defeat COVIND-19. On flipside, Coronavirus have united India with political parties supporting the Govt in this fight for survival, giving competitive politics much needed rest. Given the national resolve, one can confidently say-hum honge kamyab aik din.

(Author is a retired IAS officer) feedback: [email protected]

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