The year 2020 has so far turned out to be quite the rogue cannonball, latest in the series of disasters being the novel Coronavirus.
This disease has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives around the world. The most recently-discovered variety of this body of viruses, SARS-CoV-2, has been wreaking havoc throughout the world, surfacing in different countries and driving the Governments to their wits' ends, in their attempts to contain what seems to have the form of a global pandemic, declared as such by the World Health Organization, on the 11th of March, 2020.
Currently, COVID-19 is being considered the top-priority by almost all the Governments around the world, and as the death toll due to this disease increases around the world, it becomes clearer, with each passing day, that containing this pandemic is the need of the hour, to ascertain the continuation of the human race.
What is Coronavirus?
The term “Coronavirus” refers to a body of viruses that cause respiratory issues in the classes Mammalia and Aves. However, in terms of the current pandemic, what we are looking at is a particular variant of the Coronavirus, termed as the “SARS-CoV-2”. The World Health Organization declared the name of this new disease to be Coronavirus Disease 2019, or, the COVID 19, in the month of April 2020.
How did it all begin?
The first cases of a rapidly-spreading respiratory tract-oriented disorder, similar to pneumonia, but brought upon by unidentified causes, were reported in Wuhan, in China, on the 31st of December, 2019. In the next few days, China reported a death toll that quickly spiraled out of control. The attention of the World Health Organization was drawn to this “new” disease, more so when deaths from similar symptoms began to be reported around the world. On the 11th of March, 2020, WHO declared that COVID-19 had reached the magnanimous dimensions of a pandemic. Certain European countries were the first to face the full blow of COVID-19, tailed closely by some South Asian countries and the United States. Currently, almost all of the countries in the world have reported cases of COVID-19.
COVID-19: The pandemic
A pandemic, as opposed to an epidemic, is not concentrated within a region, territory, or nation. A disease is classified as a pandemic when it records occurrences in multiple regions, territories, or multiple countries worldwide. After its initial appearance in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the SARS-CoV-2 was found in persons showing similar symptoms of respiratory tract infections in a number of countries, in different continents, even– all in a matter of about two weeks.
The World Health Organization announced that the SARS-CoV-2 has been observed to be spreading rapidly all over the world in the span of a month or so, and for this reason, it has been classified as a “pandemic”. The brevity of the COVID-19 situation can well be gauged from this fact.
Symptoms of COVID-19
Because of the fact that COVID-19 has no preventive vaccination or definite cure as of yet, tracking the symptoms of this disease is of paramount importance, as all of the treatment procedures are necessarily symptomatic.
COVID-19 is characterized by mild to high fever, cough (possibly dry), recurrent sneezing and shortness of breath. Basically, COVID-19 exhibits all symptoms of the common cold. When it gets critical, however, the symptoms can quickly escalate to dire viral pneumonia and ultimately, multi-organ failure, leading to death.
Usually, the symptoms start surfacing at about the five-day mark, counted from exposure to SARS-CoV-2. However, this period can vary from two days to fourteen days.
COVID-19 has mostly been observed to affect aged individuals or individuals with a history of respiratory problems. Younger individuals, with reasonably sturdy immune systems, run a lower risk of suffering from the full-blown symptoms of the disease. However, they may still be carriers, and individuals susceptible to respiratory issues may be vulnerable to COVID-19 if they're exposed to the carriers.
COVID-19: Threat to humanity
The symptoms of COVID-19 are very similar to the common flu– then why, exactly, is this disease posing such a threat to the human population?
This is because, to date, no definite cure or vaccine exists for this disease. The novelty of the disease, and its ability to spread rapidly, give it an upper hand over humankind. While certain drugs (like hydroxychloroquine, available in India) have proven to be somewhat effective, its success in tackling COVID-19 is still none but a tentative possibility.
While COVID-19 isn't airborne per se, it can spread through contact– basically, it can be passed on through organic droplets (discharged through sneezing, coughing, or saliva) of affected persons or carriers. Such droplets have a tendency of lingering on surfaces, as opposed to the belief that they can be transmitted over long distances. However, this allows individuals to contract COVID-19 simply by coming in physical contact with contaminated surfaces.
One thing is certain: COVID-19 can spread rapidly. In fact, there have been 21,73,432 confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally, as of the 17th of April, 2020. The global death toll up to this point has been 1,46,291. India alone has reported 452 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, as of the 17th of April'20. European countries like Italy have been hard-hit by the pandemic. The United States, too, has reported quite a worrisome state of affairs, with regard to the COVID-19 scenario.
No known cure for COVID-19 has yet been found, and researchers are yet to formulate a vaccine for the disease. In such a situation, the only known treatment for cases of the disease is symptomatic– that is to say, patients are treated according to the symptoms they exhibit. However, one must remember that this does not qualify as a cure. The World Health Organization has recommended a number of changes that can somewhat help in keeping the spread of COVID-19 in check, which include regular hand washing, maintaining personal hygiene, avoiding public gatherings to the greatest extent possible, self-quarantine and social distancing.
This entails that most cross-border (and in some cases, intra-national) transportation services have been stalled, most economic activities have been indefinitely suspended, and so on. Currently, there is an almost global Quarantine, which is necessary to tackle the COVID-19 scenario. Needless to say, however, this will definitely have social consequences. The entire flurry around COVID-19 has exposed the flimsy state of medical affairs in a number of apparently powerful countries. While the World Health Organization has issued directives in order to guide the nations hit by the pandemic to allocate resources for COVID-19 and concentrate maximum prioritization on the pandemic, it has also specified that “essential services” should be readily provided to those requiring them. These essential services include emergency medical requirements.
Medical personnel and staff are required, according to the World Health Organization, to have appropriate protective gear, as they're constantly exposed to the virus. Hazmat suits are recommended for providers of essential services, to ensure that the chance of spreading COVID-19 through physical contact is minimized. WHO also suggests an allocation of funds and resources, for test kits, dedicated to battling the pandemic. However, this has faced multiple challenges in different countries, owing to lack and or misplacement of allocated funds.
WHO behavioral directives
Aside from issuing directives for national governments to assist them in their battle against the novel Coronavirus, the World Health Organization has also suggested a number of hygiene-oriented behavioral changes, as well as guidelines for individuals to follow in their personal lives. These are enlisted below:
- Individuals are advised to clean their hands as often as possible and deemed fit. Using soap or alcohol-based sanitizers is recommended.
- If someone is observed to be coughing, sneezing or exhibiting any other overt symptoms, it is advisable to maintain a safe distance from such individuals.
- Excessive contact of hands with face, nose or eyes is to be minimized.
- One must cover their nose and mouth with their bent elbow, or a tissue when they cough or sneeze.
- Individuals are requested to consider the possibility of spreading infection, and to avoid the same, to refrain from appearing at public places, workplaces or social gatherings, if they feel unwell.
- If an individual finds themselves coughing, sneezing, or experiences an abnormal amount of difficulty in breathing, then they are requested to seek immediate medical attention. Contrarily, people are also advised, for the time being, to avoid unnecessary trips to medical institutions.
- Individuals are requested to abide by the do-s and don't-s suggested by the local medical facilities.
The necessity of social distancing
Social distancing has been declared to be the need of the hour– the only known route to containing, if not curing, the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing ordains that people remain confined to their own houses, avoiding public gatherings and exposure to the outside world as much as possible. Currently, the majority of the world's population is trying to maintain social distancing, and a number of countries are maintaining a total lockdown. It is important to recognize the gravity of the situation and give up certain social pleasures for the sake of the greater good, at this hour of crisis.
India and COVID-19
In India, the first records of COVID-19 date back to the 31st of January, 2020. The disease didn't initially have an outbreak, so to speak– it was chiefly “imported” into the country by individuals traveling to India from other areas of the world where the disease was already rampant. As of today (17th April'20), there have been 13,835 confirmed cases of COVID-19, of which, 452 cases have resulted in the death of the individual. There have been 1,767 reports of the recovery of SARS-CoV-2 infected patients, too. The Union Government in India has extended its initial Quarantine period, in an effort to better concentrate its focus in battling the pandemic.
Repercussions of the pandemic
The majority of the countries around the world, including India, have found themselves in a situation where declaring nation-wide, or territory-specific, lockdowns have emerged as the only possible way to combat the impending doom. However, the developing countries that are in this situation, are facing major social and economic challenges. Needless to say, the Quarantine has temporarily lulled all Economic activities and the world might just be facing a major Economic crisis and a disastrous amount of negative social consequences.
Fighting the pandemic the right way
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the mortality rate and the number of reported cases have been on the rise in most countries. Upon charting the statistical data, one can observe a definite upward curve.
But certain countries have managed to “flatten the curve”, that is to say, some countries have been able to handle the pandemic and its repercussions relatively well, bringing the COVID-19 situation in check, and registering increasingly higher numbers of recoveries. In the midst of the chaotic apprehensions about the disease and the doldrums of a pan-world Quarantine, the news that some nations have successfully flattened the curve is definitely a ray of hope. For example, Germany has shown a 95% recovery rate. Other countries that have achieved the feat of visibly curbing the rate of SARS-CoV-2 viral infections are Finland, Belgium, etcetera.
The trajectory of the future
In spite of all the information collected, all the data published, all the test centers and medical facilities established, all the individuals visibly recovered– one thing remains certain: predicting the future of COVID-19 and its dynamic with human beings will prove to be a very difficult task. This is chiefly because of the factor of novelty which is functional in the case of the SARS-CoV-2. For example, scientists are still unaware of whether temperature and climate have any effect on the virus, or whether the demographic affects the outbreak of this disease. Whatever progress is being made in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic is based entirely on observation and modeling. Besides, there are going to be quite a few environmental and social transitions because of the paradigm shift in people's personal and mass social engagements that have occurred over the past four months.
As of now, humankind is laboring continuously to enhance its leverage against the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. All we have to do, as of now, is maintain social distancing, follow the guidelines suggested for dealing with the situation, prepare for the worst-case scenario, and hope for the best.