It was on 31 December 2019 that China communicated to the World Health Organisation (WHO) about an unknown virus in its industrial city of Wuhan. The world did not take note of this communication. Even in China the belief was that it was recurrence of SARS Virus. However, by January 7, 2020, China ruled out the possibility of SARS and identified a new strain of Coronavirus. Coronavirus is a form of virus which causes a range of disease ranging from mild fever to severe pneumonia. The new virus was called 2019-nCov (now called Covid-19) popularly known as Corona Virus.
On January 11, 2020 China announced first death from the new virus. On January 23, 2020, Wuhan was put on Quarantine. By the beginning of February 2020, several countries started reporting their first cases. Italy was among them. It was on 22 February 2020 that Italy reported its first two deaths. As of today 25 March 2020, there are reportedly more than 400000 cases and 19000 deaths and Italy has surpassed China by huge margin (in fact more than double of China) in number of reported deaths. On 11 March 2020, WHO was forced to declare Covid-19 as pandemic. On 24 March 2020, International Olympic Committee also declared postponing the Olympics beyond 2020 to 2021.
Experts are worried about exponential curve when the cases start doubling almost every day. In the beginning it is still manageable but within a month it becomes almost unmanageable as the experience of Italy shows. This curve can be flattened by taking certain measures such as social distancing. It can be done by avoiding social spaces, keeping distance from each other and avoiding physical contact like handshake.
Strict measures have been put in place by almost all the counties. While some countries have managed to control the spread of disease by putting in control measures and information access to citizens, others were slow in taking decisions. Countries which were slow in taking tough decisions are now forced to take them albeit after the disease has already spread. Then there are places like Hong Kong which took tough measures early on and were able to control the spread but let their guard down a little bit early and saw sudden spike in cases.
Every person is important in this fight against this deadly virus as exemplified by now famous “Patient 31” from South Korea. One of the few affected countries which was able to check the spread of virus is South Korea. The government of South Korea was quick to react. The lessons learnt from MERS came in handy. South Korea tested far more people than any other country. Geo tagging of people who were tested positive was done. Laws were immediately changed. The citizens also cooperated and were ready to trade off some personal liberty for bigger social cause for the time being. The experience of South Korea also highlighted the importance of taking each case seriously. The number of people affected by the virus were around 30. Then came in the Patient Number 31 and by the time she was identified and her weekly routine traced back the number of cases increased more than 50 times within a week and the government was forced to declare highest level of medical emergency in the country. All this because she did not practice social distancing. We have to remember that the Covid-19 has very big ego. It will not come to your house unless you go out and invite it in. However, practicing social distancing is sometimes almost next to impossible. It is possible for upper class or upper middle class and middle class to practice social distancing. It is almost impossible in many poor counties and slums. The population density of slums is way too high for social distancing to be practical. Often 5-10 persons live in one room making social distancing impossible.
Every news channel and every newspaper is talking about it. People are learning new terms like Pandemic, Endemic, Lockdown, Curfew, Quarantine, Community Spread, Super Spreader, Social Distancing, Hazmat Suit etc. The pandemic has affected the whole world. Its affect is being felt in almost every aspect of life. It has tested and exposed medical preparedness of countries. It has exposed the disaster management preparedness of countries. One of the first to affected were schools as they were the first one to be closed. Suddenly teachers, kids and parents learned more about e-learning in less than a week then what they had learned in their lifetime. It has also led to number of conspiracy theories which are flying around like anything.
Businesses have been severely affected. Supply chains have gone haywire. Production has come to a halt in many places and people have already started losing jobs. However, the biggest sufferer is tourism and allied industries like airlines, hotels, restaurants, tourist guides etc. There are going to be a number of bankruptcies in Airlines industry (flyby of UK is an early example). Stock markets have crashed all over the world. The GDP growth is going to be negatively impacted in each and every country. The biggest losers will be small and medium businesses and daily wagers. Homeless people are particularly vulnerable. Desperate times call for desperate measures. The United States Government is planning a 1 to 2 Trillion US Dollar intervention to help businesses sustain. It is equal to 5% of US GDP. The world has not seen such unprecedented government intervention, perhaps, except during 1930’s recession.
Central banks of more than 50 countries as of today have cut interest rates to support businesses. The European Unions is taking unprecedented fiscal steps to help countries overcome the pandemic. It has taken steps to suspend rules on public deficit, thus allowing countries freedom to inject liquidity into the economy as required.
While covid-19 has brought compassion of common people all over the world to the fore, on the other hand it has also brought fear resulting in racism and discrimination to raise its ugly head. Chinese in Germany and France have reported facing racist slurs and have been spat upon in many cases. So much so that in France, a citizen of Chinese origin has started a hashtag #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus which means “I am not a virus”. In India also people from north east have recently faced racist comments such as being called Corona in other parts of India. This is shameful and must immediately stop. On the other hand, we have beautiful stories of people helping total strangers. Who can forget the example of Italian Priest, Don Giuseppe Berardelli, who gave up his ventilator to a younger patient and himself embraced death. It is such stories which restore one’s faith in humanity and gives hope that this too shall pass.
There have been many unintended outcomes of the present crisis. It has forced countries to work together. Japan was one of the first countries to supply medical support to China although they have troubled past and are bitter rivals in many ways. One unlikely positive outcome of the lockdown is the lowering of pollution levels in places previously notorious for high pollution levels. It has allowed families to spend time together which at many places was not possible in the busy schedules. It is forcing people to find new methods and adopt new technologies to work and help each other. More importantly it has made the whole world to realise that at the end we all are equal. It does not matter you are citizen of which country, profess which faith, how rich or poor you are. It has brought everybody at the same level.
Important thing for us is not to panic, help the poor and the needy as much as possible, appreciate family and friends, take government instructions seriously and follow them and last but not least, ponder on the purpose of life beyond money, saving and investment. This too shall pass, Insha’Allah.
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Ryan W. Miller (24 March 2020) Italian priest with coronavirus who gave his ventilator to younger patient has reportedly died. Available at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2020/03/24/covid-19-italian-priest-who-donated-his-ventilator-has-reportedly-died/2906351001/. Accessed on 24 March 2020.
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