Racing against time

COVID-19 is more serious than the seasonal flu in several ways. Unlike the flu, there is no known treatment or vaccine for COVID-19. The overall case fatality rate may be 1 to 2 per cent, which is 10 to 20 times higher than that of flu. We may also be more susceptible to the Novel Coronavirus because humans have never encountered it before. A virus is a biological agent that reproduces inside the cells of living hosts. When infected by a virus a host cell is forced to quickly produce thousands of identical copies of the original virus. In fact, viruses pass into the environment from clinically ill or carrier hosts. The evolutionary history of viruses represent a fascinating precursors of life as we know it. As a scientist of agriculture and climate change, we know that viruses are quite diverse. We can become infected with a small number of virus particles and by inhaling particles expelled when another person coughs, for instance and then become sick for several days.

While declaring COVID-19 as pandemic WHO Director General noted “Pandemic is not a word to be used lightly or carelessly”. He justified its use because of the “alarming levels” of its spread and severity. The Director General made two other points. In fact this pandemic is the first pandemic “caused by a Coronavirus” , earlier Coronavirus epidemic such as SARS that led to 800 deaths in many countries did not ‘qualify’ as pandemic. When a new disease emerges, it’s crucial to track its spread. That means more than just gleaning the numbers of new cases. Collecting genetic information about a virus can help public health officials understand how it arrived in their country and take steps to slow its advance. It can also help researchers monitor the virus for mutation that might make diagnostic tests less effective. But efforts to identify and contain such outbreaks are hindered in resource-poor settings.

The Coronavirus was first dismissed as a small cloud in an otherwise clear economic sky. Scientists estimate there are 10 million times more viruses than the number of stars in the universe. Most of them are found in oceans. In fact, viruses are capable of infecting all type of life forms, from humans to bacteria. Some viruses can prove difficult to treat because viruses are sheltered by our own cells. That sounds unfortunate.

India imposed a Junta curfew on March 22nd..  Days after came the announcement about a complete lock down for 21 days. The PM further asserts that social distancing is the only way to fight against the Coronavirus. In his second address to the nation, Modi made a hand folded appeal to the country-men not to cross the “lakshman rekha” of their homes in the next three weeks.

Even countries like Italy, France and the US with best health infrastructure have been left helpless due to the spread of the disease despite their relentless efforts, he said, emphasising the gravity of the situation. Some people suffer from this wrong mindset that only infected persons need to follow social distancing; such a view can endanger lives of others and their families.

Social distancing will be the key phrase in the days and weeks to come. The term simply refers to avoiding close contact with other individuals in order to avoid catching the virus yourself and to avoid passing it on. Social distancing is currently the most important factor to control the COVID-19 outbreak, and therefore, critical. Many factors contribute to the so-called reproductive number of the new Coronovirus, which describes roughly how many people an infected individual will go on to infect. Currently, estimates of the reproductive number of the novel Coronovirus range from 1.4 to 6.5 with an average of 3.3. The higher the reproductive number, the faster it will spread. Factors that affect the reproductive number include:

  • How inherently contagious the virus is
  • How susceptible people are to infection
  • The number of contacts between people
  • The duration of those contacts.

As a matter of fact, scientists race against time to defeat the deadly respiratory virus impacting communities around the world. Here, people need to understand that this is really, and indeed really a serious pandemic. It is up to you to not get infected and to not infect others. Prevent infection by staying in your house, washing your hands, avoiding people who are sick. Society needs your help. People’s participation is very important in this drill. I realise, the advice is difficult to do, but it’s life-saving, not necessarily for you if you are 30 years old and healthy, but may be for your grandparents. The longer the virus lasts and the farther it spreads, the bigger the impact on life. Hopefully, history repeats itself and like other epidemics this one too peaks and passes; quickly – Inshallaha.

Shah Masood  is a Senior Scientist at the College of Agriculture, SKUAST-Kashmir, Wadura Sopore.