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Coronavirus – A Man Made Disaster?

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Coronavirus or more popularly known as COVID-19 has rocked the whole world with its large number of infections and fatality rate. The virus has caused more than 5.5 million deaths across the globe and infected over 308 million people. In India, there have been over 35 million cases officially, and about 483,936 casualties. It has been predicted that these numbers are highly skewed and that the real numbers can easily be at least 10 times more than the official figure.

What is Coronavirus?

Coronavirus is a large family of viruses that are often the source of respiratory infections, including the common cold. Most of the viruses are common among animals, but sometimes, an animal-based coronavirus mutates and successfully finds a human host.
According to the World Health Organization, during previous outbreaks due to other coronaviruses, human-to-human transmission occurred through droplets or objects making contact, suggesting that the transmission mode of the 2019-nCoV can be identical.
The symptoms may include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
Antibiotics do not work against such viral pneumonia and there are no vaccines against them. In addition to this, the virus is contagious even during incubation, that is even before a patient exhibits any symptoms. This characteristic amplifies transmissibility. Due to this, travel bans have been imposed across the world.

COVID-19 Vaccine

The year 2020 was considered to be one of the toughest year of modern times. The entire world remained in a state of lockdown throughout the year. The transportation was stopped which induced wastage of products on one hand and deficiency of the same on the other hand. Millions of people lost their jobs during this time, as social distancing was required to contain the spread of the virus. This lead to a major economic crash across the world. In order to contain the havoc created by the pandemic, various pharma companies across the world working rapidly towards discovering the vaccine for the virus.
Multiple vaccines have emerged across the world. India has in fact acted as a leader in manufacturing the vaccine and reaching it to different countries across the world.

New Variants of COVID-19

The discovery of the vaccine should have ideally led to the spread of the virus get under the control. However, this has not happened. This is because variants have emerged of novel coronavirus independently in several countries, and the latest research indicates that the virus is changing quickly (mutation) and it may continue to develop towards evading currently available vaccines.
The latest of the variant is the UK variant and the India variant which are spread at a much greater speed and are proving more fatal than before.

How Infectious is COVID-19

Scientists use a measure called “basic reproduction number” to measure how a disease spreads through a population also known as R0. This number indicated how many people each infected person will infect on average.  R0 measures how infectious any disease is and helps governments and health organisations in formulating the strategy to tackle the disease.
If R0 is less than 1 then the disease spread will eventually fizzle out. If it is greater than one then, one infected person on average can infect one other person and so on the chain is formed. Currently, this number R0 for COVID-19 is estimated at about 2.5, which implies that a single infected person will infect about 2.5 others, on average.

How is COVID-19 Transmitted From Person to Person?

World Health Organisation (WHO) notified on April 30, 2021, that the COVID-19 virus spreads mainly between people who are in close contact with each other, typically within 1 metre (short-range). A person can be infected when aerosols or droplets containing the virus are inhaled or come directly into contact with the eyes, nose, or mouth. It said that the virus can also spread in poorly ventilated and/or crowded indoor settings, where people tend to spend longer periods of time. This is because aerosols remain suspended in the air or travel farther than 1 metre (long-range). And people may also become infected by touching surfaces that have been contaminated by the virus when touching their eyes, nose or mouth without cleaning their hands.

Coronavirus – The Origin

Diseases that pass from animals to humans are called zoonotic diseases. They are rare. The chief concern with them is that since they are new to humans, the human body does not have any immunity to them. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that globally, about a billion cases of illness and millions of deaths occur every year from zoonoses, i.e, diseases and infections naturally transmitted between people and vertebrate animals. Some 60% of emerging infectious diseases globally are zoonoses. Of the over 30 new human pathogens detected over the last three decades, 75% originated in animals.
Coronavirus is one of them. It is believed to have originated in a seafood market in Wuhan that was involved in the illegal sale of wildlife. According to WHO, wherever there is close mixing of humans and animals, especially the unregulated handling of blood and other body products, as happens for example in China’s animal markets, there are greater chances of transmission of a virus from animals to humans, and its mutation to adapt to the human body.

Variants of Coronavirus

When a virus is widely circulating in a population and causing many infections, the likelihood of the virus mutating increases. The more opportunities a virus has to spread, the more it replicates – and the more opportunities it has to undergo changes.
Genetic variants of SARS-CoV-2 have been emerging and circulating around the world throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Of them, the B.1.1.7 (Alpha), B.1.351 (Beta), P.1 (Gamma), B.1.427 (Epsilon), B.1.429 (Epsilon), and B.1.617.2 (Delta) variants are classified as variants of concern. The variant that has severely affected India and was responsible for the disastrous second wave of coronavirus in the country is the Delta variant.
In November 2021, another variant of Coronavirus was detected. The variant B.1.1.529, also known as Omicron was designated as a variant of concern by the World Health Organisation. This decision was based on the evidence that Omicron has several mutations that may have an impact on how it behaves, for example, on how easily it spreads or the severity of illness it causes.
Current knowledge about Omicron 
Researchers in South Africa and around the world are conducting studies to better understand many aspects of Omicron and will continue to share the findings of these studies as they become available.
Transmissibility: It is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible (e.g., more easily spread from person to person) compared to other variants, including Delta. The number of people testing positive has risen in areas of South Africa affected by this variant, but epidemiologic studies are underway to understand if it is because of Omicron or other factors.
Severity of disease: It is not yet clear whether infection with Omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including Delta.  Preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa, but this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection with Omicron.  There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants.  Initial reported infections were among university students—younger individuals who tend to have more mild disease—but understanding the level of severity of the Omicron variant will take days to several weeks.  All variants of COVID-19, including the Delta variant that is dominant worldwide, can cause severe disease or death, in particular for the most vulnerable people, and thus prevention is always key.

Vaccination in India

India began its vaccination campaign on January 16, 2021. Starting with vaccinating the healthcare workers, front line workers, senior citizens, people above 45 years with comorbidities, India began the world’s largest vaccination drive with great furore. The country opened vaccination for anyone above 18 years by May 2021 and finally for the 15-18 years age group from Jan 2022.  As of Jan 10th 2022, the country has administered more than 1.5 billion doses of the vaccine. Through its CoWIN app, the government of India made an effort to keep its vaccination drive highly efficient. Through campaigns such as door-step vaccination, vaccine appointments, group vaccination drives at societies, vaccinating employees of a company, among others; the country has managed to fully vaccinate about 67 per cent of its population.

Effects of Vaccines on the Variants

According to several lab tests show, the Delta variant has stronger resistance to vaccines than other variants. A British study published in the Lancet medical journal in early June looked at levels of neutralising antibodies produced in vaccinated people exposed to the Delta, Alpha (first identified in Britain) and Beta (first identified in South Africa) variants.
It found that antibody levels in people with two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech shot were six times lower in the presence of the Delta variant than in the presence of the original Covid-19 strain on which the vaccine was based. The Alpha and Beta variants also provoked lower responses, with 2.6 times fewer antibodies for Alpha and 4.9 times fewer for Beta.
A French study from the Pasteur Institute has said that neutralising antibodies produced by vaccination with the Pfizer/BioNTech jab are three to six times less effective against the Delta variant than against the Alpha variant. Although they represent an essential marker, the levels of antibodies measured in a lab are not enough to determine the efficacy of a vaccine.
As a result, real-world observations are crucial to measuring vaccine effectiveness — and the first results are reassuring. According to data published by Public Health England, vaccination with Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca is as effective at preventing hospitalisation in the case of the Delta variant as it is in the case of the Alpha variant. Two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab prevent 96 per cent of hospitalisations due to the Delta variant, while AstraZeneca prevents 92 per cent, according to a study involving 14,000 people.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is 88 per cent effective against symptomatic Covid caused by the Delta variant two weeks after the second dose, while the jab is 93 per cent effective for cases caused by the Alpha variant. AstraZeneca shows the efficacy of 60 per cent against cases caused by the Delta variant and 66 per cent in the case of Alpha.
The team behind the Sputnik V jab meanwhile tweeted on Tuesday that theirs was “more efficient against the Delta variant than any other vaccine that published results on this strain so far”. They did not publish results but said the study by the Gamaleya Center, a Russian research institute, had been submitted for publication in an international peer-reviewed journal.

Coronavirus Outbreak – A Manmade Disaster

Conspiracy Theories

Coronavirus originated in China and was endemic to the country for the first couple of months of its outbreak. The country, however, failed to warn the World Health Organisation about the virus, its outbreak and its lethality in time, which resulted in its spread across the globe. The doctor who first warned his government of the coronavirus outbreak, Li Wenliang was summoned by the authorities and was made to sign an affidavit acknowledging his crime with a promise of never engaging in any such rumour spreading activities in the future.
President Donald Trump has in fact raised the prospect that China deliberately caused the COVID-19 outbreak that’s killed over 39,000 Americans and said there should be consequences if the country is found to be “knowingly responsible.”
French virologist and medicine Nobel laureate Luc Montagnier has made explosive revelations regarding the origin of the coronavirus, saying that the deadly virus was manufactured in a laboratory in China’s Wuhan. The Nobel Laureate while speaking at a TV interview with C News said, that elements of the HIV-1 retrovirus, which he co-discovered in 1983, can be found in the genome of the Novel Coronavirus. He also said elements of the “malaria germ” – the parasite Plasmodium falciparum – can also be seen in the virus’s genome. In another podcast interview with Pourquoi Docteur, he said that the virus had escaped in an “industrial accident” from the Wuhan city laboratory when Chinese scientists were attempting to develop a vaccine against HIV.

Ignorance Among People

When the virus reached Europe, people failed to understand its gravity and did not follow the social distancing norms. The virus kept spreading claiming a large number of lives across the continent. European citizens when realised the magnitude, found out, that they were too late. The disaster had already hit the continent. Which was why they came to social media to warn the world about the danger of the virus.

Coronavirus – A Manmade Disaster in India

In India, the virus was initially controlled in a much efficient manner. Although there was a large number of fatalities and cases, it was to be expected considering the fact that India has a high population density. However, eventually, as the new variants emerged, they got much more fatal and contagious. The second wave of COVID has been much more catastrophic for India than the first, even though the vaccine is out and is being administered to millions. The governments of different states and Union territories have once again started to impose lockdowns and even curfews.
Despite these measures, the virus continues to spread, which can be mostly accounted to anthropogenic activities in the following manner:
1. Masks Ignorance
Even after a year of staying in times of pandemic, and understanding the importance of masks, people continue to not take them seriously. People choose cloth-made fashionable masks over surgical masks, not taking into account that health is more important than fashion. Most of the times, masks are worn below the nose, completely defeating their purpose. People wear masks when stepping out of the house, but the masks are completely ignored or forgotten when outsiders enter the home as guests or even while the delivery of food or other parcels.
2. Vaccine Hesitancy
There has been a lot of speculation about the efficacy of the vaccine. People do not have enough faith in it, despite the fact that their role models and political leaders are all taking it. These people are not only wasting the resources but are also carriers of the virus that may end up spreading more and taking away the lives of more people.
3. Unessential Essential Goods and Services
It is impossible for people to sustain themselves without certain essential goods/services such as food, healthcare, etc. People use the excuse of the need for such services to carry about their work without considering the serious health they pose to themselves, their families and the society they live in.
4. Inefficiency in Administration
There has been a major mismatch observed between official order and actions on the ground. For example, people arriving from various middle easter countries are to go through institutional quarantine at the airport for at least a week, as soon as they land. However, reports have discovered that this has not been happening efficiently, and the people are in fact let go after paying a certain penalty.
5. Man – A Social Animal
One of the major problems in containing the spread of the virus is that man is a social animal. And the man is therefore unable to stay cooped up indoors and stay socially isolated. The people have had enough of staying isolated in the last year and are now taking unnecessary risks to attend social gatherings.
6. Opportunism in the supply chain of Essential medicines
As the virus is mutating into different forms, its capacity of transmission is also multiplying by the day. Amid this, there is an exponential rise in the demand for essential medicines, beds in the hospital, liquid oxygen and ventilators. However, the supply of these essentials is limited. This gap has given rise to black markets, wherein certain opportunistic people are hoarding the essentials provided at reasonable rates from the government or other charitable institutions and reselling them at very high prices in the black market. Doctors and many other healthcare workers across the country have been arrested for selling an essential drug Remdisivir for over 50,000 rupees in black whereas it is supplied by the government at around 900 rupees. People in dire need of the drug end up paying such high prices, despite poor financial conditions to save the lives of their loved ones. The poorest of the poor cannot afford this – and often end up suffering more. This inequity is not only magnifying the impact of the virus but is also widening the income gap even more.
7. Fake News, Fake Resources
Recently, several arrests have been made of people selling antibiotics or fake drugs in the name of Remdisivir, at high prices. Police have been able to confiscate lakhs of rupees from individuals claiming to be selling essential drugs, but are really selling fake medicines in its place. A similar scenario is observed in finding other resources as well. People are able to find so many sources when they tap into their social media accounts. But when one calls to verify, they realise, most of them are fake, or exhausted but not updated. Such misinformation spread by man is one of the major causes of the disastrous nature of the second wave of COVID in India.
8. Vaccine Scams
The government of India has recently allowed residential societies to organise vaccine camps. Following that, an upmarket society in Mumbai at Hiranandani organised a vaccination camp in the society complex. The residents were informed that they will receive the shots from Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Andheri. But when they received the vaccine certificates, they found that their vaccines came from Nanavati Max Super Speciality, Lifeline hospitals and NESCO jumbo centre. They got suspicious about the authenticity of the vaccines because none of the 400 people who received the vaccine shots got any post-vaccine symptom whatsoever. Also, the residents were prohibited from taking any pictures while getting jabbed.
The residents inquired about the Nanavati hospital to realise that they had no part in the vaccination at the society. The residents, who paid over 1200 rupees for each shot, are wondering if they received actually the COVID vaccine or were shot with a simple glucose dose. Either ways such scams are only going to aggravate the problem, as a new variant has already emerged and the third wave of COVID-19 is just around the corner.

Guidelines to Prevent the infection

One of the best ways to prevent oneself from getting infected with the COVID virus is to stay in isolation. However, it may not be practical or feasible for many. World Health Organisation has therefore recommended taking the following precautions to reduce the risk of getting infected:
– Follow local guidance: Check to see what national, regional and local authorities are advising so you have the most relevant information for where you are.
– Keep your distance: Stay at least 1 metre away from others, even if they don’t appear to be sick, since people can have the virus without having symptoms.
– Wear a mask:  Wear a well-fitting three-layer mask, especially when you can’t physically distance, or if you’re indoors. Clean your hands before putting on and taking off a mask.
– Read WHO’s Masks and COVID-19 Q&A and watch its videos on how to wear and make masks.
– Avoid crowded places, poorly ventilated, indoor locations and avoid prolonged contact with others. Spend more time outdoors than indoors.
– Ventilation is important: Open windows when indoors to increase the amount of outdoor air.
– Avoid touching surfaces, especially in public settings or health facilities, in case people infected with COVID-19 have touched them. Clean surfaces regularly with standard disinfectants.
– Frequently clean your hands with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand rub. If you can, carry an alcohol-based rub with you and use it often.
– Cover your coughs and sneezes with a bent elbow or tissue, throwing used tissues into a closed bin right away. Then wash your hands or use an alcohol-based hand rub.
– Get vaccinated: When it’s your turn, get vaccinated. Follow local guidance and recommendations about vaccination.

India’s response to the outbreak

In India, 3 Crore confirmed cases of the virus have been detected across the country with over 3.9 lakh deaths so far. In response to this, the country has been taking the following steps to combat COVID19.

India revived SAARC to fight Coronavirus

The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, chaired a high-level meeting with the heads of all SAARC member countries to formulate a strategy to fight this global pandemic. India pledged $10 million towards a special COVID19 emergency fund and put took steps to form a rapid action team comprising of doctors and other healthcare professionals. The SAARC nations praised PM Modi’s initiative in taking a lead in the region to fight the coronavirus outbreak. Pakistan created major controversy by raising the issue of Kashmir at the video conference meant to discuss the response of SAARC nations towards Coronavirus.
“As developing countries, all of us have significant challenges in terms of access to healthcare facilities,” PM Modi said. “As developing countries, all of us have significant challenges in terms of access to healthcare facilities. Our people-to-people ties are ancient, and our societies are deeply inter-connected. Therefore, we must all prepare together, we must all act together, and we must all succeed together,” he said. “We can respond best by coming together, not growing apart – collaboration, not confusion, preparation not panic,” said PM Modi.

Acceptance of International Aid

India changed its course and broke its decade-old tradition of not seeking outside help to tackle the crisis in the country, and invited the global community to intervene and help control the crisis, especially during the second wave. Through its outstanding diplomacy with respect to vaccine supply across the world before the second wave of COVID in India, the country managed to receive support from several European countries, Asian and Arabian countries, and North American countries.

Amending the CSR norms

In order to attract more corporate support, the government of India, during the course of the pandemic’s first and second wave, has amended the CSR law to encourage more corporate participation in the management of COVID-19. The norms allowed for companies to spend on mitigating and controlling the pandemic, provide for safety equipment, conduct vaccination camps, etc. under its CSR expenditure. It also allowed the corporates to provide financial support to the government by making contributions to PM CARES fund under their CSR expenditure.

Coronavirus in various parts of India

Below is the list of total cases in India and state-wise impact of the epidemic, as per the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. (as on 10th January 2022)
S. No. Name of State / UT Active Cases* Cured/Discharged/Migrated* Deaths**
Total Change since yesterday Cumulative Change since yesterday Cumulative Change since yesterday
1 Andaman and Nicobar Islands 322 135  7699 40  129
2 Andhra Pradesh 4774 1115  2062580 140  14505
3 Arunachal Pradesh 222 36  55054 282
4 Assam 6434 539  614126 448  6181
5 Bihar 16898 4586  716401 435  12101
6 Chandigarh 2364 570  64977 96  1080
7 Chhattisgarh 15464 2398  994234 102  13615
8 Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu 89 11  10694 4
9 Delhi 60733 12555  1463837 10179  25160 17 
10 Goa 9209 1660  177168 261  3532
11 Gujarat 27913 5012  824163 1263  10128
12 Haryana 18321 4361  765758 805  10072
13 Himachal Pradesh 3148 337  225055 160  3882
14 Jammu and Kashmir 3531 549  336581 135  4540
15 Jharkhand 23328 2230  349074 1208  5170
16 Karnataka 49631 11095  2963957 901  38370
17 Kerala*** 35601 3804  5200350 2390  49591 44 
18 Ladakh 340 59  22000 30  221
19 Lakshadweep 1 10368 51
20 Madhya Pradesh 6842 1804  783947 234  10537
21 Maharashtra 205973 29025  6572432 15351  141639 12 
22 Manipur 469 55  123676 12  2011
23 Meghalaya 394 66  83355 10  1485
24 Mizoram 4612 245  140872 270  561
25 Nagaland 81 31486 703
26 Odisha 15784 4328  1046617 386  8468
27 Puducherry 1250 425  127590 19  1882
28 Punjab 16343 3729  588401 144  16675 10 
29 Rajasthan 19467 5301  947738 358  8972
30 Sikkim 218 66  32092 409
31 Tamil Nadu 51335 11075  2712096 1808  36855 12 
32 Telangana 13522 1342  676466 330  4042
33 Tripura 803 153  84303 23  830
34 Uttarakhand 4118 864  339343 548  7424
35 Uttar Pradesh 25974 7423  1688648 253  22928
36 West Bengal 78111 16056  1657034 8213  19901 18 
Total# 723619 133008  34500172 46569  483936 146 
*** For Kerala, as per State media bulletin: 30 deaths reported on 9th January + 14 deaths declared as per appeal G.O.(Rt) No.2110/2021/H&FWD
*(Including foreign Nationals)
**( more than 70% cases due to comorbidities )
#States wise distribution is subject to further verification and reconciliation
#The figures are being reconciled with ICMR

Way Forward for India

Infectious diseases including those of the zoonotic variety are on the rise in India. In addition, regions in India suffer from seasonal outbreaks of dengue, malaria and influenza strains. In this context, the nationwide disease surveillance programme needs to be strengthened in the country. Given the growth potential of India’s biotech sector, it is time to put in place a robust public-private partnership model that can transform the health services sector in the country, covering disease surveillance, diagnostic kit availability and accelerated vaccine development.