The Covid-19 Conundrum


It is now over one and half years since the Covid-19 burst on the world scene from its origins in Wuhan, China. It began to spread so rapidly that within a few weeks the WHO declared first a Global Public Health Emergency, and shortly afterwards a pandemic.

The world has never been the same since. To this day there are no clear right answers nor good solutions to all the problems that the pandemic has directly given rise to – medical and health, economic, social – that have affected all countries indiscriminately. In the early stages it was the frontliners, mainly the health professionals (doctors and nurses) and the support staff of hospitals and health facilities (laboratory personnel, ambulance drivers, mortuary attendants and so on) who bore the brunt of the pandemic’s impact. With rapidly rising numbers of patients and a significant percentage becoming seriously ill and requiring admission along with intensive care, the hospitals were overwhelmed.

There was no known specific treatment and as the health staff battled to save lives, many were lost. In due course, health personnel too started to succumb to the stress of taking care of patients for long hours, and their proximity to the ill, infected patients led to their being infected as well. Death from stress, Covid infection and unfortunately suicide too saw the loss of both young and experienced medical and nursing staff.

Side by side, scientists and health researchers began to think about not only treatment but also control of the spread of the virus. ‘Fortunately,’ it had been fairly rapidly been genetically characterized, and so scientists could begin to work on producing vaccines, using modern techniques in genetic engineering and production technologies that could go to scale in shorter times than had been traditionally the case.

Compiling global data on all evolving aspects of the disease, WHO was soon able to propose some guidelines for prevention and control, namely the public health or sanitary measures which stand good to this day, which can be captured by the acronym SMS: Sanitizing, Masking, Social distancing. God AND the devil being in the details, there have been variations in the minutiae of these measures so as to limit the spread of the virus, but fundamentally SMS is the core of the prevention programme. But to achieve it, given the nature of human social interactions at large (workplace, socializing for leisure and in other institutions for educational or other purposes, etc) and the requirements of the globalised world which remained critical in terms of manufacture of all goods and the supply chains that depend on extensive transport networks, this could not be left to the people’s will. And so harder legal measures had to be introduced in all countries successively, amongst which what has been called the rolling lockdowns, in the face of second and third waves that have now become another reality of the pandemic.

We have not been spared either, and if it can be put this way, compared to our neighbouring island Reunion with all its more advanced facilities, we are less worse off, with 20+ deaths and 5000+ total cases, whereas Reunion has crossed 43,000 cases with nearly 280 deaths. This in no way mitigates the hardships that the families of the deceased have been made to suffer in addition to their personal losses, nor the decried conditions of quarantine and the lack of an empathetic human approach in a number of cases.

Just one is too many. We therefore make an appeal here to the authorities to give more attention to these aspects, if only not to tar the relatively positive record in the matter of prevention and control to date.

The major strategy in control is achieving levels of vaccine above 60% or 70% depending on country specifics as regards their own assessment of their respective ongoing situations. As is well known, a number of issues have plagued vaccine rollout, including efficacy, availability and access to, resistance or reluctance on the part of the public, such that certain countries – and surely more to come – have had to introduce vaccine ‘mandates’ (France, USA, Russia, China). And now there are also ‘mask mandates.’

Many uncertainties persist, for example in the matter of treatment, no specific one being available yet. But coping with the other impacts, especially the economic one, is no less complicated.

Bottomline is that every country has to take its own call. The world over populations are tired if not fed up, but unfortunately as we have now known for some time, this virus is going to stay. This is the new normal that confronts us, and we must all cooperate as well as take individual responsibility in this struggle for control that will be protracted.

* Published in print edition on 17 August 2021

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