Just within a week’s time, so many things happened! All schools and academic institutions declared an untimely closure, examinations postponed or stopped and most organisations asked their employees to work from home. It’s a pandemic, caused by “COVID-19”. It’s a time full of stress when the parents and grandparents of young children and people of all ages are anxious due to this situation. This is a disaster, which has no political boundary.
The COVID-19 outbreak is alarming and therefore we need to be careful, but there is nothing to be panicked. A lot of random users of social media are misusing and misrepresenting facts. Let us understand some basic facts and discuss the same within our surroundings which will help us understand the situation in a better manner and behave rationally.
Epidemics and Pandemics are Not New
Epidemics and pandemics are not new to human beings across the globe. Epidemics are comparatively smaller scale whereas pandemics are of large scale. We have experienced another pandemic in 2009 caused by H1N1 virus. A “pandemic” is an infectious disease where significant and ongoing person-to-person spread in multiple countries around the world is seen at the same time. Epidemics are spread through one or several communities, but not worldwide. Therefore an epidemic may become a pandemic through time and that actually happened in case of COVID-19. An influenza pandemic occurs when almost simultaneous transmission takes place worldwide. In the case of pandemic influenza A (H1N1) also, widespread transmission was documented in both northern and southern hemispheres between April and September 2009 (Kelly, 2011).
There are hundreds of Coronaviruses, most of which circulate among animals including pigs, camels, bats and cats. Sometimes those viruses jump to humans known as spillover event causing disease. Seven coronaviruses are known to cause human disease, but four of them are mild, other three can have serious outcomes in people that include MERS, SARS and COVID-19.
Coronavirus is Not New
COVID-19 is caused by the Coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19 might be fatal to those who are suffering from pre-existing ailments and people with less immunity power. The number of confirmed cases is lower than the number of total cases because ‘confirmed cases’ are only those cases which have “laboratory confirmation”, everyone reported to have similar symptoms is not tested. Not necessarily all cases are caused by COVID-19 too, there might be other seasonal influenza as well.
Cases of Influenza are Not New
Influenza is a common disease across the world, only the types vary. COVID-19 as flu pandemic is probably little different because of the scale of impact and also partially because of the better awareness of the people across the nations. The response to the pandemic was quick, actions were taken at a faster pace than the previous similar events. So far, the most affected countries by this outbreak are China, Italy, Iran, Spain and Italy. The outbreak could harm more if immediate actions could not be taken in respect of creating social distance, communicating to people for spreading awareness. The latest situation report released by WHO based on data of March 18, 2020, the following is the update in brief, which itself indicates that how minutely the situation is being observed at the international level. This practice itself indicates a better preparedness for a worldwide disaster.
At this point of crisis, let’s behave very responsibly. The above table shows that most people actually were saved from the flu caused by COVID-19, at the same time, it might be fatal for a few. Young healthy people might be safer, because of their immunity power, but contamination can cause bigger harm to their parents and younger ones and also people with existing ailments who might be extremely vulnerable. All of us have such people within our family or surroundings, we must protect them. Let’s accept social distance for a few more days to save the world and behave as responsible “global citizens”.
Saswati Paik teaches at Azim Premji University, Bengaluru.
Current WHO phase of pandemic alert for Pandemic (H1N1) 2009. Pandemic influenza preparedness and response: WHO Guidance Document
Kelly, Heath (2011). The classical definition of a pandemic is not elusive. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2011;89:540-541. doi: 10.2471/BLT.11.088815