COVID and/ or Corona is all around us. All of us are discussing this. Many times with fear – how we will protect ourselves and our near and dear ones from this. But many times it is also about what the future foretells?
How is this going to change us when it all ends? How will society change? What will be the economic impact? What will be the effect on various industry segments, how we work, how we travel, how we get entertained, how we connect?
These questions are being increasingly deliberated, but it will take a while to come to some answers. And for most we will not have an answer, we will discover through the journey.
But first the basics. What is Corona, what is COVID-19 (and all such terms), where it came from and how, and where is it headed?
Corona – where did the name from?
If we will look at the definition of Corona, it essentially means a crown (we are familiar with the coronation, when someone becomes a king or queen and the crown is put on the person’s head).
Corona – something suggesting a crown, such as
- a usually colored circle often seen around and close to a luminous body (such as the sun or moon) caused by diffraction produced by suspended droplets or occasionally particles of dust
- the tenuous outermost part of the atmosphere of a star (such as the sun)
- a circle of light made by the apparent convergence of the streamers of the aurora borealis
Coronation – the act or occasion of crowning
If you look at the photograph above which is a typical crown, it has this pointed, you know pointed structures which are ball-shaped at the top. And Coronavirus (left top) is it looks under the microscope, the similarity can’t be missed.
And the other definition of Corona is on the bottom left – it is the outer edge of something glowing, like a star. And here too, the similarity of the virus is un-missable.
31st December 2019, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission in Wuhan City reported a cluster of pneumonia cases of unknown causes, with a common link to Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, a wholesale fish and live animal market. The market was closed down on 1st January 2020.
9th January 2020, the China CDC reported that a novel coronavirus (later named SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19) has been detected.
10th January 2020, the first novel coronavirus genome sequence was made publicly available.
20th January 2020, there were reports of confirmed cases from three countries outside China.
23rd January 2020, Wuhan City was locked down.
30th January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared this first outbreak of novel coronavirus a ‘public health emergency of international concern’.
11th March 2020, the Director General of the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic
India began thermal screening of passengers arriving from China on 21 January.
The first case of the in India was reported on 30 January 2020, originating from China.
SARS: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
CoV-2: Coronavirus 2
COVID – The sequence of the Events
The sequence has been controversial, with many questioning it in multiple dimensions. The source, Wuhan becomes all the more contentious because of Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is at Biosafety Level 4, the highest level. There are speculations from many credible sources that the virus may have originated from the lab. However, we sure need to wait on this.
COVID – India’s response
Another key area to focus on is the strategies that had been adopted by various countries to control the spread. India created the first task force on COVID-19 on 7th of January, it circulated the preliminary guidelines to all the state governments on 18th January. India gave notice for thermal screening and various airports and 21st January for China returned individuals. India had been the pioneer in many ways – in terms of restricting foreign travels and probably the most stringent lockdown.
Pandemics – a long history
Incidentally, around 18 years back we had a similar attack from another virus of the same family – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). However, the impact of that was significantly lower than the present. (The scientific name of the virus is CoV-2, Coronavirus 2. However, in general, it is known as COVID-19, Coronavirus 2019).
The crisis was declared a pandemic on 30th January 2020 by the World Health Organization (WHO). This is a critical development, and probably this is the point where we should get a little into the various terms – epidemic, pandemic, etc.
Epidemic: A disease that affects a large number of people within a community, population, or region.
Pandemic: An epidemic that’s spread over multiple countries or continents.
Epidemic vs. Pandemic: An epidemic in multiple countries
Endemic: Something that belongs to a particular people or country.
Outbreak: A greater-than-anticipated increase in the number of endemic cases.
The declaration of COVID as a Pandemic is critical to the fight, as this aligns the world with a common goal, common plan, and in many ways common resources. It also helps countries to make decisions which in normal times can well be contested – like travel restrictions.
Pandemics – dooms over the centuries
But while we today are extremely perturbed with COVID, the pandemic has a long history. And some of them had been much more devastating, at least in terms of deaths than COVID had been so far.
|Name||Time period||Type / Pre-human host||Death toll|
|Antonine Plague||165-180||Believed to be either smallpox or measles||5M|
|Japanese smallpox epidemic||735-737||Variola major virus||1M|
|Plague of Justinian||541-542||Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas||30-50M|
|Black Death||1347-1351||Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas||200M|
|New World Smallpox Outbreak||1520 – onwards||Variola major virus||56M|
|Great Plague of London||1665||Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas||1,00,000|
|Italian plague||1629-1631||Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas||1M|
|Cholera Pandemics 1-6||1817-1923||V. cholera bacteria||1M+|
|Third Plague||1885||Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas||12M (China and India)|
|Yellow Fever||The late 1800s||Virus / Mosquitoes||100,000-150,000 (U.S.)|
|Russian Flu||1889-1890||Believed to be H2N2 (avian origin)||1M|
|Spanish Flu||1918-1919||H1N1 virus / Pigs||40-50M|
|Asian Flu||1957-1958||H2N2 virus||1.1M|
|Hong Kong Flu||1968-1970||H3N2 virus||1M|
|HIV/AIDS||1981-present||Virus / Chimpanzees||25-35M|
|Swine Flu||2009-2010||H1N1 virus / Pigs||2,00,000|
|SARS||2002-2003||Coronavirus / Bats, Civets||770|
|Ebola||2014-2016||Ebolavirus / Wild animals||11,000|
|MERS||2015-Present||Coronavirus / Bats, camels||850|
|COVID-19||2019-Present||Coronavirus – Unknown (possibly pangolins)||160,717 (12AM IST 10th April 2020)|
The Spanish Flu which happened approximately a hundred years back lost 40 to 50 million people. And estimates show around 500 million got affected, about one-third of the population at that time.
Historically, pandemics have happened because of bacteria or viruses. And in all the cases, there had been a pre-human host, from whom it had jumped to the humans. And here we need to pause and look at a few things, especially in the coronavirus.
COVID – how does it affects us?
A virus is a submicroscopic infectious agent that replicates only inside the living cells of an organism. And it needs a host, the living organization which activates the virus, helps it to reproduce and transmitted. When infected, the host cell is forced to rapidly-produce thousands of identical copies of the original virus.
There are millions of viruses (though only 5,000 types have been studied in detail), and they are all around us. Many of them are carried by other animals, and even by us but with no symptoms. But once in a while, one virus will mutate in an animal host (the pre-human host), and “jump” to humans. The coronavirus is one such, and it is deadly too (especially since it affects the pulmonary system).
As of today, there is no clarity on the pre-human host of COVID. The image above, which shows Pangolin as the pre-human host is speculative. The same is the theory that it has jumped to humans when someone consumed animal meant purchased at the Wuhan market. There is even a theory now made public by Luc Montagnier, who won Nobel Prize for discovering AIDS virus, claimed that it may be a misadventure at the Wuhan Lab while trying to develop a vaccine for AIDS. However, what is the truth? We need to wait to know about it.
As we saw before, any virus, which mutates and finds a host in humans may not be having manifestations, and even ones that affect us may not be deadly (as with common cold). However, for the virus which affects us, the impact is seen in two dimensions – how badly it affects us, and how quickly it spreads.
COVID – how does it spread?
The contagious nature of the virus is defined by the metric R0 or R naught. This is how many people, on average, will be infected by one infected person.
The R0 for COVID is 2.5, whereas that for measles is 16. So clearly measles is much more contagious, but COVID is much more deadly – with a significantly higher percentage of patients who need intensive care, as well as face fatalities.
Add to this the fact that there is no known cure and no vaccine. So if unchecked, this will progress geometrically – with possible doubling every few days if unchecked. Add to this the fact that 86 percent of the infected people are asymptomatic, that is no symptoms at all. So there is the possibility of infected people, who don’t know that they are carriers, may unknowingly transmit the virus.
COVID – how does it transmit?
The transmissions typically happen by personal contacts, through touch or when an infected person sneezes in proximity (and globule carrying the virus reaches the potential victims).
The graph above is the global trend on 19th April 2020 – 10 PM IST. It is geometric in progression.
So how we ensure that people avoid social contacts, and flatten the curve (so that there are not too many infected people, who will put tremendous stress on the entire system, especially the healthcare.
Given that humans by nature are social, the methods followed by most of the governments are lockdown – where people are being forced to maintain distance over some time, with expectations that it will become am habit in the times to come.
COVID – what lies ahead?
So here we are – there is the deadly virus called Corona which has spread globally with no signs of slowing down. It has no treatment, and no vaccine (which is understandable given it is NOVEL or new) However it is deadly, highly contagious, and affects the pulmonary system – which is one of the most vulnerable, as well painful experiences if affected.
Add to this the dispute on the origin of the virus, the supposed non-cooperation of China, and the confused handling of the situation across many countries.
We are now in the middle of the ravages which the virus is inflicting. As it slows down (hopefully shortly), we need to look at other areas – society, economy, industry and other facets. We will revisit the same in the coming days – as a continuation of these discussions.
Well, it will not be out of place to have a small note on HxNx, a term made familiar by H1N1 – the terms associated with Swine Flu (swine influenza) and bird flu (avian influenza).
What does H & N mean? They stand for Hemagglutinin and Neuraminidase respectively – proteins on influenza (also called flu) surface which helps invade the host’s cells.
There are 16 varieties of H and 9 of N, and the combinations of them make 144 varieties of influenzas – from H1N1 to H16N9.
All of them are around – but vary in severity, categorized as A-B-C. The Cs and Bs are the ones we can live with, but the category As – like the H1N1 is deadly.
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