Last month I had to get my daughter to Bangalore. She had to start her classes at the University.
It was an ordeal. RTPCRs for the entire family to get out of the airport there. Then she had to be in quarantine for seven days before joining classes! Whatever for? By that time, there were free movement of people all over India. There were practically no masks, and the ever-present crowds were back with a practiced nonchalance.
“Oh. Don’t worry, sir. She Just has stay in the hostel for seven days. Roommates won’t mind. She can roam around the city- that is no problem. She can’t join classes, that is all.
This is a typical illustration of the way the pandemic has been handled in India and even in much of the wider world for most of the past two years. We haven’t done adequately what should be done at the right time, and whatever we have done has disrupted normal lives, pushed thousands into destitution, inflicted heavy misery on millions, and yet the virus had a more or less free run in many places.
I simply cannot forget the image of a poor man from gulf who, during quarantine, became mentally disturbed and made a run for it. This was months back. The spectacle of him fleeing terrified, and the authorities in PPE suits chasing him, tackling him to the ground and bundling him into the van, limbs tied and all, was aired in TV ad nauseum in Kerala.
Kerala did slow the spread, staved off panic during the peak, and saved lives. And it paid the price for it too. Flattening the curve means slower and prolonged disease transmission. Greater accountability means better reporting of cases and deaths.
Hey- Kerala still has cases! Look at the deaths!
South Africa detects a new variant. It is the only place in Africa that has excellent research infra structure capable of doing that. Immediately after, it is detected in half a dozen countries. It will surely be there in most countries if we look carefully enough. Our response?
“Let us isolate South Africa! Let us order fresh clampdowns! Let all the international flights be cancelled? Shall we order fresh RTPCR everyday for every citizen in every country in the world every day if they want to get out of their homes? What about a blanket four-year lockdown?
I am open to criticism. Please criticize. Attack me with all your might, so that there is clarity. I might be dead wrong.
But the tentative facts, as I see it, are:
- As far as we can see, Covid 19 is here to stay. Just like the corona virus OC43, which possibly caused a pandemic in 1890 that killed millions, but today is a seasonal cold virus that cause mild disease, Covid 19 is likely to become an endemic seasonal virus, that will cause progressively milder disease and minor, localised outbreaks. Just like a new flu virus that causes deadly pandemics. After every flu pandemic, the next seasonal outbreaks are caused by the same strain, but in a much milder form. Most present-day flu outbreaks are by H1N1, after the pandemic of 2009.
- New strains of Covid19 appear with regularity. Whenever a new strain that is more infectious than the present dominant strain comes, it will INEVITABLY spread all over the world, and BECOME THE DOMINANT strain within a few months, WHATEVER YOU DO. Because it is a geometric progression, a single person with that strain reaching a country is enough. The difference between one person reaching and a thousand patients surging in, can be counted as only a matter of weeks- as far as the quantum of spread is concerned. So, what does stringent travel restrictions actually achieve? Very little.
- Omicron is a new strain that is probably much more infectious than the present delta one. So, IT WILL spread. It is only a matter of time.
- The key question is, does it cause more severe disease with increased morbidity and mortality? No. There is no evidence for it. It is likely that it is milder. Usually, more infectious strains cause milder disease. That is the rule, both evolutionarily and epidemiologically. So, the Omicron is a natural evolutionary progression of the virus, on its way to becoming one causing milder endemic disease.
- Generally, Covid 19 is extremely infectious. So, it will be impossible to prevent its spread. We can only slow it, by masks, crowd control within reasonable limits, and vaccinations. Now, a substantial proportion of the world population has already got the disease, or is vaccinated, at least partially. Any reinfection or vaccine breakthrough infection is shown to be much milder. It is likely true for the Omicron strain too. So, isn’t a devastating wave of infection unlikely? Waves and local outbreaks will continue, with this disease, in the foreseeable future- If not Omicron, then something else.
- Vaccines, masking and crowd control remains measures that should continue, but all further measures should be within reason. People should be able to carry on with a near normal life.
I am quite receptive to detailed comments and criticism. Please do. People will benefit from the discussion.