The Invisible Enemy

On Edge of Apocalypse?

Bibekananda Ray

The COVID'19 has been raging in 227 countries and territories as well as on 26 cruise and naval ships since January this year with cumulative death toll close to 9.5 lakh out of over three crore people affected; there is still no brake. Governments and medical communities all over the world are furiously engaged in developing a vaccine, a therapy, or both, but without a credible success as yet. The global population is on the edge of a precipice with everybody vulnerable so much so that if it is untamed, the Biblical Apocalypse- "the complete final destruction of the world"- could be a reality. India's first case was reported on 30th January, this year; she currently has the largest number of confirmed cases in Asia and has the second-highest number of confirmed cases in the world after the United States with the number of total confirmed cases having breached one-lakh mark on 19th May and 10 lakh (one million) on 17th July. On 29th August, India recorded the global highest single-day spike with 78,761 cases, surpassing the previous record of 77,368 cases in the US on 17th July. She currently holds the single-day record for largest increase in cases, set on 17th September, with an additional 97,894.There is scepticism about the actual deaths and recoveries (close to one lakh on 20th September), given by the government, every day. General election is due in Bihar later this year and in West Bengal, next year; Prime Minister Modi is announcing grandiose development plans, more for Bihar than for elsewhere, to divert people's attention and bolster the vote bank. A silver lining in dark Corona cloud could be a strategy to win the electorate.

Much has been written on the possible origin of the virus, whether it is a natural phenomenon, a biological weapon, or a freak accident in Wuhan virological institute in China. Beijing denies the last two but given its record, it could be hiding the truth. It is said to be bred in Borneo bats which the Chinese love to eat. Like the origin, the path of its transmission is also shrouded in mystery. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is changing its hypotheses; initially denying, it has admitted possibility of its being airborne which the world believes too, as everybody goes for masks. About medication too, the WHO has dismissed efficacy of hydroxychloroquin and anti-viral drugs used to treat SERS and MERS. The rising rate of recovery is attributed to use of other anti-viral therapies, even antibiotics and vitamins. Plasma therapy to boost immunity is being tried in many countries with uneven success. Alternative medical sciences- homeopathy, Ayurveda and Unani- are claiming success with preventives and antibody-boosters but the berserk Corona stallion cannot be reined in. Society is still hostile to victims and the medical community attending to them; dead bodies were disposed of by hospitals in mass cremations and burials; only recently governments are handing them to kin for fool proof disposal.

Every day, the mass media and governments are giving chilling numbers of samples tested, of infection, treatment and deaths desensitising people to the human tragedy. Yet beneath this numerical fusillade lie millions of innocent lives cut in prime of life, their homes shattered by this unforeseen disaster, economies plunging, industries closing, prices spiralling and massive dislocation of everything. Focus on Corona is diminishing attention on other critical patients; hospitals and nursing homes are diverting general beds for sundry other diseases to accommodate Corona cases. While the 'Titanic spirit' (adult passengers sending out women and children from the sinking ship, themselves left to die) is evident in the medical community, ignoring homes and families and sacrificing all creature comforts, greedy service providers are fleecing the public for renting and driving ambulances, safe homes and cremations etc. In fact, overall, the beleaguered mankind rose to the occasion to help one another in this global calamity.

Nobody knows, when this apocalyptic slide will end, if at all, or taper off. Doctors say, like other deadly viruses COVID-19 will stay with mankind but can lose its fangs, or go dormant, like that of smallpox and chikungunya; that would be enough, because someday a vaccine and therapy will be developed and be affordable by even poor people. Schools, colleges and universities are closed for months; tests and examinations postponed or cancelled; students are advised online studies and tests making a mockery of true evaluation. Suburban trains and long-distance buses are off the road, causing enormous losses to the railways and bus operators. Even now much is unknown about the COVID-19—its genetic structure, path of transmission, mutation and longevity; doctors are either echoing the WHO or repeating what they learn in medical journals which admit ignorance. Lot of confusion persists in physicians and researchers which come out in discussion programmes on the media. The supreme confusion is about the path of transmission; initially, the WHO took it to be tactile, i.e., by coming in touch with a victim, or his droplets during coughing and sneezing; when over a 100 scientists affirmed that the virus is airborne too, the world body conceded that it could be so. Some doctors say, masks should be worn in home too; some say, wearing it out of home is enough. Some say, eyes and hair need not be covered, some say, they also could transmit the virus. Faeces were never deemed a path but recently, some doctors are not dismissing them. Practitioners of alternative medicine are claiming cures by cheap common medicines (Arsenic Alb and Kali Phos by homeopaths, black pepper by Unani, and mustard oil in nostrils by Ayurveda). The situation has become so ludicrous that one is reminded of Dr Samuel Johnson's famous quip that search for God is like that for a black cat in a dark room where it is not.

The only silver lining in corona cloud is the increasing rate of recovery and diminishing rate of deaths, particularly in India. The Union Minister of Health is an indefatigable claimant of both. According to him, not even two among a hundred positive cases die these days, when close to a lakh test positive every day. It hogs headlines in world media obsessively, edging out news people normally look for; DD Bangla has been airing interviews with doctors and creative artistes about do's and don'ts and adjusting life styles ad infinitum, often repetitive. China is believed to have developed a vaccine, with which mortality has been reduced but is not sharing it with other nations. If it is someday proved that the virus was indeed a biological weapon gone awry in a Chinese lab, she will be deemed a rogue country in unseemly rivalry with the USA to become the world's greatest super-power. Except US President Donald Trump, no other world leader is accusing Beijing; India's ruling leaders do not even name her. China's trade and cultural links with many nations are so vital for both that none is inclined to topple the apple cart.

Someday, the total loss and damage, caused by the pandemic all over the world will be known; the mortality could be a crore or more. The health care infrastructure has been overstretched; it will take time to for it to return to normal. Corona had its blessings too; it recharged and rejuvenated the medical infrastructure in every country it raged in; important acquisitions and additions were made. Mankind has been made aware of the complex inter-connected ecology he lives in; the viral world, hitherto muted, has become eloquent. He has to learn to live with it.

Vol. 53, No. 22-25, Nov 29 - Dec 26, 2020