March 8, 2020. I Google Worldometers a website dedicated to bringing live figures on the coronavirus. First page. Coronavirus Cases. 100,291. Deaths: 3,408. Recovered:55,988. Active cases:40,615 View by country.
I watch the figures change on the screen in open-mouth disbelief as if I've entered an alternate dystopian reality.
Governments worldwide are unveiling battle plans, shutting down schools, universities, workspaces, institutions, cancelling anything involving crowds, from conferences to concerts Stocks and economies are taking a tumble. Airlines are shutting down. This is just the start. This virus has spread to over 80 countries since identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. Health experts are suggesting that newly emergent clusters in Europe, the Middle East and India could accelerate the global spread of the disease.
For those who still think this is just a virus, consider this.
For once, governments worldwide are following the lead of scientists who expect that it will infect range between 40-70 per cent of the world population of seven billion people. Theoretically, it could infect every human.
Of the lower estimate of 40 per cent, the mortality rate is currently gauged as between two-three per cent of the people infected. Do the math.
Over time humans have developed immunity to the common flu, which reportedly kills some 600,000 people worldwide annually. Currently, no human is immune to coronavirus. This virus will play until a vaccine is produced which scientists say will take a minimum of six months. COVID-19 will be much harder to contain than Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) because the average infected person (even if mildly contaminated) spreads the disease to two or three others at an exponential rate.
The 1918 influenza pandemic was the most severe in recent history with an estimated number of deaths of 50 million with 500 million or 1/3 of the population being infected. The numbers show coronavirus appears to be on a similar scale.
What governments are doing by rolling out battle plans is playing for time as per WHO policy to slow down the natural rate of transmission to deal with it.
Unless draconian measures are used, there is no way to stop it because people are moving around by sea and land. With these numbers, world travel and no known immunity, cases confirmed in the Dominican Republic, St Martin and St Barts mean a matter of time till it spreads across the Caribbean and to us in T&T.
I had a conversation with a Caribbean virologist who reminds us that there are hundreds of coronaviruses in animals, and some like SARS (batts to Civets cats) and MERS (bats to camels) have acquired the ability to replicate in humans.
The virologist says that ultimately humans have brought this upon ourselves. She says "the coronavirus is human-made due to deforestation, habitat destruction, rapid global travel, modern agricultural practises, and dense populations. This hasn't come from nowhere."
Scientists have been waiting for this.
"Man has created ecological and environmental changes that increase opportunities for infected animals and now humans to come into contact with suspectable individuals. If you are encroaching on forests, you create opportunities for the virus to jump to you. If we are destroying habitat animals will live next to you. If we are all travelling at a rapid rate, you are infecting thousands."
Scientists have been studying the interaction on humans, animals and environment and how it impacts on health and warning us. We have not been listening. So listen now.
To avoid coronavirus: Maintain social distancing (at least three feet between yourself and anyone coughing and sneezing to avoid breathing in COVID-19 virus). Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, since once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes nose or mouth. Practice respiratory hygiene—covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately. If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early.
If you are exposed to someone who has it, this will happen.
Quarantine. Two weeks incubation from the time you have been exposed. Wait for the virus to show its face—based on previous coronaviruses, it will do so between two-11 days. The virus will vary from very mild to very severe. In 80 per cent of cases, you will have mild flu symptoms with cough and a fever. If severe, you will need oxygen, life support, hospitalisation. The elderly and those with compromised immune systems of underlying illnesses are most susceptible. Other contributory factors to severity include smoking, genetics, and the state of your lungs. Two-three per cent of all infected will succumb to the virus.
WHO (World Health Organisation) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters that "this is not a drill."
Tedros called on the heads of government to "coordinate all sectors" and not leave it to health ministries. What is required now is "aggressive preparedness.”
What's the battleplan T&T?