Prime Minister Narendra Modi has very appropriately reminded all Indians that even if lockdowns are being lifted or eased out in places, all protocols related to controlling the spread of communicable diseases need to be respected 100%.
With the onset of the festival season, it is only correct that all want to enjoy the festivities as they did last year, and the Prime Minister has, just in time and rightly so, called on all the citizens of the country to protect that festival joy by continuing to follow the safety protocols laid out by the Government during the festivity and after that too, till perhaps a vaccine is found.
The decreasing numbers are the result of a lot of good work by good people but this is not the time to let our guard down. More than ever, our situation today can best be likened to a deer a forest that is being watched by a tiger or a lion waiting for a chance to pounce, if the deer remains alert it may get away, but even a moment’s slip and it may have to pay with its life.
Our Life is in our hands!
“Fight for your lives yourselves before it (becomes) someone else’s job.” This statement by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida, shooting survivor Emma González came after a school shooting on Feb 14, 2018, that killed 17 students and injured 17 more. That is just slightly less than two full years before the Coronavirus appeared. Now when the pandemic is in full fury around us, these words pinpoint precisely what is expected from us today.
In his TED Talk in March 2015 Bill Gates stated that “If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a nuclear war. Not missiles, but microbes.“ Yes, this warning came four and a half years before the actual arrival of the pandemic. Additionally, Bill Gates also stated in the same talk, referring to the threat posed by the Ebola epidemic, that, the problem wasn’t that there was a system that didn’t work well enough, the problem was that we didn’t have a system at all.
So we cannot say we have not been warned.
The consequences of the illness striking are well known to most of us, and as on today, there is scarcely a family anywhere that does not know of someone taken away from among us by this disease.
Taking precautions is not very difficult, social distancing, frequent hand washing and the use of gloves and mask at all times you are outside the house are what it takes. May be ‘difficult’ but it is always better to be careful than sorry.
The Vaccine Mirage
As of now, no vaccine is on the horizon, but let us not blind ourselves to the fact that a vaccine by itself is not a magic bullet.
The arrival of the Covid-19 vaccine is not going to change anything if we don’t change. Technology cannot make up for any lack of discipline born out of disrespect for the disease. We had been hoping against hope that the pandemic will go away, first with symbolism, then with prayer, and finally with a vaccine, but this one is here to stay, for sure.
Vaccine or not, we have to realise the fact that we now live in an infected world, and that even as we protect ourselves with PPE now and vaccines also when they come, these actions are only defensive in nature, we can only protect ourselves and those around us, but no ‘offensive’ action exists that can drive the infection out and away from our world.
Is the Pandemic here to stay?
To know how long it can take we can look at the history of pandemics in the past:
- The plague of Athens (430 B.C.) took one hundred thousand lives over five years
- The Antonine Plague lasted 35 years AD 165 to AD 180
- The plague of Cyprian lasted 21 years AD 250 to AD 271
- The Justinian Plague lasted two years AD 541 to 542
- The Black Death lasted seven years 1346 to 1353
- The American Polio Epidemic 1916 to 1918 with cases appearing up to 1954, 38 years after it first appeared
- The Spanish flu 1918 to 1920
- The AIDS Epidemic 1981 to today
While one may assume that human knowledge in the previous centuries was far behind what it is today, the fact remains that none of these diseases was forced out using vaccines or other technological means, results came only when people protected themselves.
It also cannot be denied that some countries have brought the Covid pandemic under control (but not eradicated it) which draws our attention to two factors:
- Small countries like New Zealand and South Korea were able to get quick results because they were small, while New Zealand has maintained its success because of consistent control, South Korea took a beating the moment it started going slack on enforcement.
- China has been able to control the disease despite having the largest population in the world, this is only because of the consistency they have shown in the application of containment measures.
Admittedly, the political and social system in China is way different from that of India or most of the other countries, but as pointed out by Bill Gates when speaking to Trevor Noah on the Daily Show, the results achieved by China show that even with huge numbers, getting a good result and maintaining it is possible if the system for containment is followed the way it is meant to be followed. Getting good results may be difficult if people continue behaving in a pre-pandemic way.
What must we do?
Given all these problems the question arises about how one must go about following 3 rules namely social distancing, frequent handwashing, and mask protection for the face.
Dr Fauci Head of the American Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases answered a few questions about this on the Daily Show by Trevor Noah, in March this year
Handshaking, operating doorknobs, or resting your hand on a guardrail or balustrade can get particularly risky if some infected person has sneezed in the same vicinity a little before you reached there, that is why frequent handwashing combined with studiously avoiding any physical contact with any surface anywhere outside your home makes a very big difference.
Keeping a two-meter / six feet distance is fine but a very important part of social distancing is keeping away from elderly or otherwise high-risk people if there is even a very remote chance that you have caught the infection – asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic carriers can expose elders to very high risk at such times, and even if the carrier escapes lasting consequences, the elderly may not be able to handle it. A particular example mentioned by Dr Fauci was of children rushing into the home and embracing grandparents immediately on arrival without having a thorough bath or wash first.
In case, anytime, symptoms do appear, do not self-medicate – most infections can be handled effectively if prompt advice is taken from a qualified medical person. While the amount of fake news on the net is very well known, an equally great danger is what Dr Fauci called “anecdotal stories” told by friends and others about ‘things that worked for them’. While they may be very well-intentioned, the possibility is always there, that some of that advice may carry more risk than would be appropriate.
When entering a lift or on the steps, be prepared for the person to enter the lift at the next floor, or pass you by on the steps, to be an active carrier, this is where the committed use of gloves and mask will protect you
When in a restaurant or a movie hall, keep your mask on except when you are actually eating or drinking anything, move it down to your neck and back again after eating – and for doing this slide your finger inside your mask and slide it up or down from within and not by handling the exposed outer surface with your fingers.
Dr Fauci also clarified that it is not necessary to remove or slide the mask off when talking to anybody, by this, you could only be exposing yourself and your listener to greater risk. It may feel like trouble, but repeating what is spoken until the listener understands is preferable to the risk involved in moving the mask away.
Whether in China, or the United States or India, the government can only be a facilitator, and ultimately our protection is in our own hands.
With the duration of the past pandemics ranging anywhere from two to six years, we have to accept it as a part of our world now and face it. The question remains, how?
As Dr Lecter tells investigator Clarice Starling in ‘The Silence of the Lambs,’ “The significance of the moth is to change, from caterpillar to chrysalis, or pupa, and from thence into beauty”.
So must we change, leaving all our behaviours of our pre-pandemic past and gear up for a world that will protect all those who take care, of themselves, of the people around them, and then take care of the world around them.