HOTSPOTS: The lockdown will go from the April 15, 2020 after the intense survey planned between April 11 and 13, 2020 to identify hotspots which may be vulnerable to coronavirus and any other contagious diseases
BY RAJAN NARAYAN
AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when the mystery of the origin of the coronavirus persisted. For a Saturday following the week when the speed of detection of coronavirus globally depends on speed of testing. For a Saturday following the week when the coronavirus caused enormous economic damage worldwide. For a Saturday following the week when Minister for AYUSH Shripad Naik Minister made an ass of himself. For a Saturday following the week when the economy which was already in bad shape will sink further following the coronavirus pandemic. For a Saturday following the week when there is speculation on whether if we cannot stop it, the coronavirus will change the nature of our world?
And a few stray thoughts on the mystery of the origin of the coronavirus. The speculation is that the coronavirus was created in a biology lab in Wuhan district in China. That it is the result of experiments in biological warfare in which both the US and China participated. The involvement of the US is based on the fact that there are several lakh Chinese students in American Universities like John Hopkins College, etc. The theory is that as it often happens in science something went wrong when the Chinese were manufacturing the biological weapon. The scientists learnt how to create and spread the virus but could how to control it.
This is first time in the history of our known universe that a viral outbreak of the dimensions of coronavirus has broken out. It could be as suspected a biological war unleashed between the USA and China which are competing for supremacy. But the theory does not work as the US is even more badly affected than China. The largest number of deaths due to coronavirus are now in the US while both the level of infection and death has come down in Wuhan where it all started. It is the globalization of the world which has made infective viruses uncontrollable. People are constantly travelling from one end of the world to another. Which means that any virus which is passed on by human transmission will spread the world over sooner or later. Every single case of coronavirus reported in India is imported either through air passengers or “shipees.” It is estimated that as many as 80,000 Indians work on ships around the world. In the normal course both the crew and often the passengers on ships belong to multiple nations. There is not been a single death in Goa of a Goan who has not gone abroad or has had no contact with anyone abroad such as a sailor or an airline employee or a foreign migrant.
SPEED OF TESTING
AND A few stray thoughts on the control of coronavirus depending on the speed of testing. It is elementary common sense that you can cure a disease only when you know what the disease is all about. All we know of the novel coronavirus is that the infection spreads through the sputum or the droplets an infected person releases in the air when he or she coughs or sneezes. So if you are close enough to someone who is already infected and catch even a tiny drop of his mucus you can be a victim of coronavirus. This can increase the intensity of coronavirus which is considered extremely fast in spreading from one person to another. Assume that five people in a ship or a plane were infected by one of the group. Soon all five get infected. The five may belong to different continents and countries. The intern may have five friends each who get infected. So now you have 25 people who are infected. The 25 intern may have hundred friends and the relatives. So the 25 become 2,500. And so on and so forth with the numbers going up not in hundreds or thousands but in lakhs.
It took just one convention at the Tablighi Jamaat convention hall which has a capacity of around 2,000 to spread the coronavirus to over 1,200 Indians and foreigners overnight. Not all of them may have had coronavirus. But they were sitting and sleeping without too much distance between them. It has been revealed that poorer delegates were sleeping together in a large hall where some may have been infected. Many of these delegates had come from various parts of the country and world. So within the next few days when the origins of the delegates who attended the meeting from India and abroad were traced it was found that more than 1200 tested positive. Which is why the countries which are the quickest tracking down and testing have been the most competent in catching the affected and preventing further spread of the deadly infection. At the airport thermal meters are used because scientists have discovered that one of the main symptoms is high body temperature. Countries which have a good surveillance network are able to quickly trace family and friends of an infected passenger. This is why in countries like Germany which are superfast in testing the deaths are the lowest because when the disease can be diagnosed at a very early stage the patient can be cured. The largest numbers of deaths so far happened in Italy because of the poor and slow speed of testing and the lack of an infrastructure to confirm the suspicion that someone is coronavirus positive. A particular element has to be present in the blood samples examined by the laboratory to confirm that an individual is negative or positive. It is very important to know if a person has tested positive because the mortality rate among those testing positive is the highest.
To beat or defeat the coronavirus the entire world has to come together. They have to share their technologies and their medicines. For instance the largest number of ventilators are in Sweden which has virtually no coronavirus cases. The number of ventilators that big countries like China and the US have fall short of the demand. There are stories doing the rounds that China hijacked a plane load of ventilators by paying ten times the price. There is also a desperate shortage of personal protection equipment which has to be worn by care givers like doctors, nurses, helpers, etc. The situation in India is so pathetic that in Indore when a doctor asked for a personal protection suit he was given a raincoat!
PPE is very sophisticated and made to ensure that a doctor’s entire face including eyes are protected and sealed so that not a drop of any deadly fluid can be transferred to medical community and caregivers. To vastly increase the supply of ventilators you require the support of other industries like automobile industries and even major electrical industries. Unless there is a combined effort by all the top companies in the world it will not be possible to fill the gap between the demand and supply for sophisticated equipment needed to conquer coronavirus. The situation is worsened by the fact that much of this equipment is part of secret sensitive army-oriented parts which no country wants to reveal or share. Though the social network has globalised the world physically and you can talk from Goa to New York within seconds and even see what your boyfriend is doing in New York, unfortunately, countries have not come together. Even for the cause of life and death. On the contrary an electronic war has turned into a biological battle for grim survival.
A NEW TURN
AND a few stray thoughts on how the world seems to have taken a completely new turn. Till the coronavirus stuck towards end 2019 with the China Morning Post reporting that a 55-year-old had contracted a new virus named novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Unfortunately, as it happens in many such cases it took time for the rest of the world to take notice, or may be coronavirus did not attract immediate attention because the speed of the transmission was not recognised. In just a few months the district of Wuhan, a very highly industrialised thickly populated district, reported several thousand cases and deaths. The early stages of coronavirus was similar to the present stage in the United States which now records the highest number of positive cases and the largest number of deaths. Ironically, there have been no new case of death reported from Wuhan in recent month. On the contrary Wuhan is returning to normalcy with virtually no lockdown on the working of factories and transport of goods and services.
The only other country in the world which matches the record of Wuhan is North Korea which is very close to China. Is it possible that China cooked up both the coronavirus and after creating worldwide panic used the antidote to control the situation? In the new electronic world of artificial intelligence and big data it is difficult to hide anything. Sooner or later the truth will come out and my belief is that China will be compelled voluntarily or involuntarily to share the antidote with the rest of the world. It is not like the times when the AIDS epidemic took almost a decade to be identified, isolated and even cured. There are AIDS vaccines now which can slow down the process of the infection. It is my personal belief that sooner than later a vaccine will be developed to prevent coronavirus infection. I am convinced sooner or later drugs will be developed to treat coronavirus. We are inclined to suspect that China unleashed coronavirus on the world because it was not happy with the rate of growth of India and China which were on the verge of overtaking USA. What worries us is what will happen in a short time now. The US has the resources and the technological infrastructure to bring an early end to the coronavirus pandemic. Even countries like Germany are technologically advanced and have reversed the trend of more cases and deaths.
We unfortunately seem to be at the stage when we do not have an outstanding technologist at the political level. We still believe in mumbo-jumbo like banging vessels against each other in the hope that the coronavirus bhoot can be frightened. The more recent tamasha of lighting diya and candles for nine minutes on April 5, 2020, Sunday, at 9 pm, was apparently due to astrological numerological factors. Fortunately there were no convoys letting of fireworks afterwards at least in Dempobhat where I stay. May be this was because the most of Dempobhat is made up of daily wage migrants who are more worried about how to feed themselves than coronavirus fears. The silver lining in all the dark clouds which have enveloped us is the young technologists and their start-ups. Young IIT engineers from Delhi have developed a low-cost ventilator specially for coronavirus cases, based on automobile technology which uses wind swappers. Leading automobile companies are collaborating and the company is expected to make 10,000 ventilators in a month, which is more than the number of ventilators India makes in five years!
THERE is speculation in Goa that the lockdown will be continue after April 14, 2020. This is extremely unlikely as the entire approach to the detection and treatment of coronavirus has changed. Significantly, a 67-year-old Goan, originally from Kenya, travelled around the world and accidently landed up in Goa. He was critically ill when he came to Goa and tested positive for coronavirus. He was hospitalized and treated. And he lived to celebrate the fact that he was cured of the deadly disease. Similarly an 87-year-old resident of Delhi who tested positive for coronavirus recovered and is doing very well for himself. Reportedly older people seem to be less vulnerable to coronavirus than younger people. The average age of death for most coronavirus patients is in the 50s.
The new approach to the infection is to quickly trace coronavirus hotspots. This means there may be hidden clusters of infected coronavirus patients as it happened in Noida in Delhi and Dharavi, the biggest slum in Mumbai. The Health Department in both these cases isolated the hotspots and treated them intensely. They also isolated these hotspots so that the virus could not spread. What is being proposed in Goa is to step up the base of detection, locating the hotspots and dealing with them. So the likelihood is that they will be no universal lockdown of the whole of Goa. Just to give an example, there may be a lockdown of only Assolna, Velim and Cuncolim (AVC) which account for the largest number of sailors. After doing a thorough screening of AVC the suspects will be isolated while normal life will resume in the rest of Goa. In the case of transportation and traffic it is expected that all modes of travel by trains, airplanes and buses will start again. Except following the hotspot principle there may be no flights to areas where there is already a high incidence of coronavirus, like New York.
It is proposed to start a coronavirus survey from April 11 to 13, 2020 in Goa. This coincides with the planned National Population Register survey. During these three days government servant accompanied by security guards will go from house to house including zopadpati check if there is anyone living there who has symptoms of coronavirus infection. This will also enable the government to identify and isolate hotspots requiring immediate attention.
So don’t be surprised if people fully covered in white or blue looking ghostly garments turn up at your doorstep one of these days for their coronavirus survey. Finally we seem to be following the right approach of identifying and treating only likely suspects instead of harassing the entire population of Goa. So we expect the lockdown to be lifted from the April 15 with the exception of a few pockets of Goa which may be identified as hotspots. We expect transport to resume although there may be delay in resuming buses to Belgavi for political reasons like the revival of work on the Khalsa-Bandara dam. We hope for the sake of Goan Observer and its readers and of all newspapers and magazines in the state that the lockdown on printing and distribution will end. And printing paper dealers will supply newsprint just as poder supply breads!