NEARLY 650,000 people worldwide are confirmed as of March 28 to have been infected with coronavirus. As I write around 4:00pm EST (USA), more than 30,000 deaths have been confirmed. The latest statistics show that the United States has superseded China as the epicentre of the virus with more than 116,000 infected people.
In any biological system, if you put a living organism into an environment where it can thrive, with unlimited resources and no predators or competitors, it will always grow in the same fashion: exponentially.
In the case of coronavirus, exponential growth will occur in the disease rate in humans so long as: (a) there is at least one infected person in the population pool; (b) regular contact between infected and uninfected members of the population occurs, and (c) there are large numbers of uninfected potential hosts among the population.
It is, thus, believed that over the next couple of weeks, the number will go up very sharply in many countries unless preventive measures against the spread are taken.
Thus far, eight countries, the United States, Italy, China, Spain, Germany, Iran, France and the United Kingdom, account for more than 80 per cent of the infected countries.
As expected, a vast majority of the reported deaths also came from these countries, eg, Italy, Spain, China, Iran, France, the United States and the United Kingdom — accounting for 89 per cent of the reported deaths.
On the other hand, if statistics around the infected cases per million inhabitants are compared, the published data appear to show that people in the European countries were more vulnerable (more than 500 per million) to this pandemic than those living in the comparatively warmer territories (see table).
It is worth noting that the statistical inference is based on the assumption of the supposed authenticity of the published data that are shared by individual countries, which may not necessarily reflect the ground reality in many illiberal democracies like India and countries that are ruled by authoritarian regimes. We would, thus, probably never know how many Uighurs and Rohingyas, encamped in Xi and Suu Kyi’s camps, respectively, got infected and died.
Many governments were either in the denial of or too nonchalant about the effect of COVID-19 while they missed the short window of taking preventive measures. In recent weeks, while it is heartening to see that government authorities have turned to proven public health measures such as social distancing to physically disrupt the contagion, such measures came rather late and have contributed to exponential growth of the virus-infected people all across the world.
In affected localities, all the academic institutions are now providing online training. Unless required for emergency, most people are staying at and working from home. These measures have severed the flow of goods and people and stalled economies and is in the process of delivering a global recession. Truly, economic contagion is now spreading as fast as COVID-19. Millions of people have lost jobs last month. The Dow Jones Index in the United States took a nose dive, losing almost 40 per cent of its value.
It is clear that a vaccine would reduce the need for social distancing and thus relax the policy’s chokehold on the global economy. But no one within the scientific communities knows when that eureka moment will dawn.
In the United States, politicians have passed a $2 trillion stimulus package to soften the blow of the coronavirus crisis. But such a package alone may not be sufficient even when the fear of the virus is gone without policy innovation that must include, amongst others, offering zero-interest loans to households and small businesses plus a moratorium on mortgage payments for residential and commercial borrowers.
No one in our lifetime has ever come across a crisis of this sort, triggered by an unknown and unseen enemy that could kill so many so fast. No one could forecast the devastating effect of this virus — sobering politicians, policy makers, and financial pundits. Perhaps, the only certainty is that any attempt at a definitive forecast will fail.
Who knows this virus may teach humanity to sober up and make them God-fearing, thus, putting their collective efforts to better the lives of all, away from militarisation and self-destruction.
Dr Habib Siddiqui is a peace and rights activist.
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