COVID-19 is going to stay, let’s face the reality

It will be in the interest of all, to educate people about the hard reality rather than living in false hopes of no community spread or low mortality rates

Representative Image
Representative Image

V Venkateswara Rao

Dr Jenna Macciochi, a lecturer in immunology at the University of Sussex, told the British online newspaper, The Independent , that it is hard to estimate a date as to when the Coronavirus will go away: “It’s a question we probably all want to know the answer to and I doubt anyone knows for sure as it depends on many factors. I’d say we don’t currently know.”

Robert Dingwall, professor of social sciences at Nottingham Trent University, describes the situation as being “impossible to give any scientifically-justifiable timetable”.

Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at Southampton University, says estimates are made particularly difficult because Coronavirus is a novel virus. “The difficulty with any modelling or future predictions is this is an entirely new virus, and the scale of this pandemic is unprecedented in living memory."

All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Director Randeep Guleria, one of India's leading medical experts, has asserted that the Coronavirus cases in the country have not yet hit their peak or even plateaued.

It's likely the disease will be here with us year-round and for years to come, says Albert Ko, an epidemiologist at Yale School of Medicine as reported by an US website

"This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away," said Michael Ryan, director of WHO's health emergencies programme, on May 13. To call a virus "endemic" means that it has a constant presence in a specific location.

Prolonged lockdowns have not fully succeeded in flattening the COVID-19 curve. Research conducted in Australia found that social distancing measures should be applied as early as possible before the virus starts spreading fast. When the cases have crossed 2.5 million mark in India, social distancing measures may have limited efficacy to slow down the spread.

The only hope now is a vaccine and/ or herd immunity. Both may take a long time to achieve.

When does a community reach herd immunity? It depends on the reproduction number, or R0. The R0 tells you the average number of people that a single person with the virus can infect if those people aren’t already immune. The higher the R0, the more people need to be resistant to reach herd immunity. Researchers think that the R0 for COVID-19 is between 2 and 3. This means that one person can infect two to three other people. It also means 50% to 67% of the population would need to be resistant before herd immunity kicks in and the infection rates start to go down.

A safe vaccine needs to go through a long and time-consuming process of a 3-phase clinical trials and testing. Russia's top respiratory doctor has quit the Russian health ministry over 'gross violations' of medical ethics regarding the vaccine 'Sputnik-V'. Professor Alexander Chuchalin resigned from the Russian health ministry's ethics council after trying to block the registration of 'Sputnik-V', what Russia claims to be 'world's first Coronavirus vaccine', on 'safety grounds'. He explicitly accused two leading Russian medics - Professor Alexander Gintsburg, director of the Gamaleya Research Centre, and Professor Sergey Borisevich, Russia's leading expert in virology, both involved in the vaccine's development, of defying medical ethics in rushing the inoculation into production.

The COVID-19 may be here for a long, long time to come. It will be in the interest of all, to educate people about the hard reality rather than living in false hopes of no community spread or low mortality rates. People should be prepared for a long, hard fight against the virus which does not have any LAC or LoC. The stigma attached to the patients fighting the virus is uncharitable. They are brave people and should be treated with respect. In spite of lesser efficacy, social distancing measures need to be inculcated in the peoples' minds as a way of daily life and a 'new normal'. Affordable and accessible health care to all is paramount, as the virus spreads from cities to hinterland in its long haul.

The economy has been ravaged by the disease, lockdowns, fear and uncertainties. People are not spending much on discretionary consumption due to the fear of an uncertain future. They should be encouraged and assured to spend more. Monitoring measures aimed at collecting peoples' expenses and savings, in this hour of crisis, may be counterproductive for the rebound of a ravaged economy. On the other hand - more relaxations, more public spending, an expansionary fiscal policy aimed at employment generation, more cash transfers to marginal sections, policy measures aimed at food and energy security for days to come and a finesse public discourse and robust diplomacy can serve us better.

(V Venkateswara Rao is a retired corporate professional and a freelance writer)

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