2020 unleashed a nightmare upon us in the form of the novel coronavirus, officially known as COVID 19.
Highly contagious and even deadly, the new strain of virus that emerged in a wet market in China, like an invisible enemy, has infiltrated almost every continent and country in no time.
It has brought the world, as we know it in the hi-tech and modern 21st century, to its knees: fazed and unprepared authorities have resorted to extreme measures such as banning gatherings, shuttering educational institutions, commercial establishments, workplaces and factories and restricting cross border movement in order to stem the vurus’ spread.
Social distancing has become our latest mantra even as fatigued but brave health workers on the frontlines give it their all to cure patients.
Yet an end seems nowhere in sight with numbers crossing one grim milestone after another every day – more than 2.5 lakhs have been infected and more than 11, 000 have been killed in less than three months’ time.
Will this become a new normal? Will the virus completely change the way we live, work and travel forever? Will an effective cure ever see the light of the day?
These are some of the questions that haunt us day and night.
To be sure, answers are not easy, reason being the scale and speed of spread.
True, we have seen positive developments.
China, the epicentre of the outbreak, has finally achieved the impossible. After seeing a continual worrisome rise in the number of infected people and deaths, the nation of 1.3 billion has managed to record no new local cases in the past two days.
Just a couple of days back, the state media announced closing of all the 14 temporary hospitals meant to treat COVID 19 patients.
This was possible because of the reckless speed and aggressive approach with which they reacted to the rapidly developing situation – hospitals were erected from ground up in a matter of days and not weeks, healthcare resources were immediately mobilized for proper screening and treatment for free, cities were locked down and technology was leveraged to track down the 80, 000 plus cases.
Using similar measures nearby southeast Asian nations of Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore have managed to blunt the impact of the coronavirus as well.
But what happens when normal life resumes with people stepping out again for work and other things?
We don’t have an answer again. As of now China is carefully monitoring the situation to see if people can be allowed out once again without any restrictions.
Meanwhile, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong are already witnessing a second wave of coronavirus infection and most of the cases are imported from other nations through travellers.
And this brings us to the biggest challenge – the unpredictability of it all.
While China was the epicentre of the virus initially, it’s Europe now.
Italy, a country that sees millions of tourists every year, has been the worst affected in Europe. Despite a severe lockdown – a step that came a tad too late, allowing the virus to spread in the first few weeks – and a highly developed healthcare system the nation is unable to cope. More than 35000 have been infected and death toll has crossed that of highly populous China. Hospitals and makeshift care centres have been overwhelmed and authorities fear they may not have room for more patients soon enough.
The rest of Europe and North America seem to be getting there too and are worried sick because of limited stock of equipment to handle COVID 19 patients.
With developed European and North American nations fearing their services would be at a breaking point, one cannot help but wonder what coronavirus would do to the densely populated developing and underdeveloped nations like India having patchy healthcare systems and limited budget.
Lockdowns and curfews can only be a stopgap. The need of the hour is an effective cure for the disease.
And scientists the world over are already racing against time to develop one. From a failed Ebola drug to influenza and malaria drugs, they are testing almost everything. However, things are still in the early stages with no guaranteed results.
The holy grail called vaccine could still be more than a year away. Around 35 companies and academic institutions are working on it and a biotech firm in Boston is very close to testing one on humans. This speedy trial has been possible due to China’s successful sequencing of the genetic material of the virus and sharing it with the rest of the world in early January itself. This allowed researchers to grow the virus and study its effects on human body.
Despite it, it could take time for a new vaccine to be formally approved and launched as the process is involved requiring several rounds of trials.
Till then, we are left with no choice but to act responsibly and pray this nightmare doesn’t last for long.