According to an expert, the virus is a combination of HIV, flu and measles.
Bengaluru: A Frankenstein monster has been let loose from Wuhan in China’s Hubei province. As a consequence, the citadels of the evolutionary world as Global Village, founded on fast paced, unabated digital revolution of over two decades, are shaking. The Global Village’s integrated global factories emphasising value chain in their manufacturing component units situated continents apart have downed shutters due to a ruptured supply chain. Worldwide, other integrated businesses have hit a dead end, leading to unprecedented global economic pandemonium. Share markets the world over have crashed, triggering a further run on an already recessive economic order. A locked down world with countries isolating themselves, have closed their land borders, airspace, sea routes; and within their own borders quarantined cities, villages, localities… This new order starkly contrasts with the Global Village. There is a run on the markets with people emptying the shelves of supermarkets. The US, UK…the super stores are witnessing long queues and are returning people empty handed.
This Frankenstein, an unseen enemy and equal in destructive power to a bio-terrorist, has since its origins in China last November continued a bloodbath from December 2019 till 19 March 2020. Covid-19 has consumed 9,982 people and incapacitated 241,563 in 177 countries. Till now, such carnage was unimaginable; the propensity existed only in fictions like 1981’s The Eyes of Darkness by Dean Koontz.
The Frankenstein that is now ravaging the world was identified only on 7 January. Initially called coronavirus, though it was different from earlier known coronaviruses, it was re-named novel coronavirus 2019. This new strain was finally given a technical identity—Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SAR S-CoV-2), by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) as it belonged to the same species as SARS-CoV identified in 2003 after it infected humans in the Guangdong province of southern China in 2002, killing over 800 people.
STARTED IN NOVEMBER
Some experts dispute the official Chinese declared date of the virus’ onset. Piecing information together, they correctly date the start of the death march to be November 2019, or earlier. But it came to public domain only on 30 December 2019 through a conscientious whistle blower. No wonder China expelled some foreign journalists and silenced its own concerned citizens.
Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist working at Central Hospital of Wuhan, blew the lid off the impending doom of new SAR S-CoV-2 on 30 December 2019. In a WeChat social media chat to his medical school classmates, posting examination reports and CT scans of infected patients Li said, “7 confirmed cases of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus were reported (to hospital) from Huanan Seafood Market…the latest news is, it has been confirmed that they are coronavirus infections, but the exact virus strain is being subtyped”.
On 1 and 3 January, Li and seven others were reprimanded by the police for “rumour mongering”. On 7 January, Li attended to a glaucoma patient, a store keeper from Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. On 8 January, Li developed fever. He correctly suspected the glaucoma patient of having infected him with coronavirus. To protect his aged parents, pregnant wife and child, Li booked a hotel room. On 10 January, Li developed fever and cough, which turned severe. On 12 January, Li was admitted to the Wuhan Central Hospital. He was repeatedly tested for COVID-19 that turned positive only on 30 January, by which time it was too late. On 6 February, the hospital announced his death but mysteriously withdrew it. His death was once again announced on 7 February. He now has received a posthumous apology from the Chinese government. Those officials in Hubei who punished rather than rewarded Li are responsible for a death sentence on nearly 15,000 and counting.
Similarly, another concerned person, a citizen journalist and human rights lawyer, Chen Qiushi, arrived in Wuhan on 24 January; a day after China imposed a lockdown on Wuhan. The aim was to stem the spread of the virus by preventing citizens from leaving. Chen, who was reporting events during the lockdown of Wuhan, went missing on 6 February. These are just two instances. There are more.
HOW DID THE VIRUS EMERGE?
The time line, place and mode of the emergence of this virus are shrouded in mystery. However, all available reports seem to point to the emergence of the first case of coronavirus in Hubei province in the ancient Chinese city of Wuhan, now a global business hub, and link the South China Seafood Market to the outbreak. The Chinese officials have said that the deadly infection emerged at a seafood market in Wuhan.
There are counter narratives that the spread has its origin in Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), China’s first biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) laboratory opened in 2015. A paper by Chinese researchers Botao Xiao and Lei Xiao opine, “bats once attacked a researcher (in Wuhan Virological lab) and blood of bat was on his skin…he quarantined himself for a total of 28 days after bats urinated on him…The killer coronavirus probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan.’ The paper, which provides only maps as evidence of their theory, says that “genome sequences from patients with coronavirus were between 89% and 96% identical to the coronavirus originally found in the horseshoe bat”.
Interestingly, Nature magazine, in a report of 7 January said that the team led by Lin-FaWang (Duke–NUS Medical School, Singapore), and Zheng-Li Shi (the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Wuhan), found the liver of Rousettus fruit bat caught in southern China containing a new type of filovirus substantially different from both Ebola and Marburg viruses, that can infect cells from monkeys, hamsters, dogs and humans.
These asides apart, researchers are still trying to locate Patient 0 of SAR S-CoV-2.
As of now, the World Health Organization (WHO) has accepted 8 December 2019 to be the date of the first detection of Covid-19—as the first individual to test positive was showing symptoms on 8 December. Research, published in January in the Lancet, a medical magazine headquartered in London with offices in US and UK, said that the first individual to test positive was exposed to the virus on 1 December. The Chinese media started covering the news only on 31 December. The realisation of the real scale of the outbreak dawned only on 20 January 2020, when a leading Chinese pulmonologist, Dr Zhong Nanshan admitted that the outbreak had entered the human-to-human transmission stage. Beijing announced Wuhan’s city-wide quarantine on 23 January. The independent journalists’ circle worried that no one would report on the situation in the sealed city. On 31 December 2019, Chinese health authorities informed World Health Organization (WHO) of grouped pneumonia cases, the majority of which were linked to a novel coronavirus. On 7 January, SARS-Cov-2 was identified as the cause of this outbreak. On 13 January, the first case outside of China was confirmed in Thailand. On 24 January, the first cases in Europe were confirmed in France. On 30 January 2020, the WHO, declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, naming the disease Covid-19 on 11 February: India also recorded its first case of coronavirus on 30 January 2019 in a student returning from Wuhan.
But according to some Chinese officials, the first case of Covid-19 occurred on 19 November 2019.
TOO MANY MYSTERIES
Mystery also shrouds the origin of SAR S-CoV-2. Authentic verified details are unavailable giving a feeling that something is amiss. Experts are divided on whether the virus occurred naturally, or was synthesized in a laboratory; whether it is a bio-weapon or a vaccine development trials program that went awry. After all, vaccines are businesses worth billions of dollars. The race to develop vaccines is hectic.
There were reports that FBI arrested Dr Charles Lieber, chair of Harvard University’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, and “strategic scientist” at Wuhan University since 2011. He was arrested on 11 February for receiving from China secretly a monthly retainer of $50,000, and millions more to help set up a chemical/biological “Research”. Also arrested were two Chinese “students” working as research assistants, one of whom was actually a lieutenant in the Chinese army. The other was captured at Logan airport as he tried to catch a flight to China—smuggling out 21 vials of “Sensitive Biological Samples”.
Mysteries need to be resolved and truthful answers found. When did the events actually occur? What triggered them? How did the virus escape? Was the seafood market the source of the spread, or were there source(s) elsewhere? Which all countries, who all were involved? A proper investigation involving all and publicising the findings is the only answer. Transparency in development of vaccines including instituting controls, stringent quality control and audits by multi-country bodies, reviewing existing processes and protocols will insure the world against such future catastrophes and protect larger security interests of future generations.
HOW THE VIRUS WORKS
Whatever its origin, the infection of SAR S-CoV-2occurs when the virus enters the body, normally through nose or mouth or eyes, passes into the upper respiratory tract, and finally to the lower respiratory tract. A healthy person gets infected on ingesting from the virus laden droplets of an infected person expelled when he sneezes, coughs or breathes. An expert told me that there could be three lakh droplets in one sneeze. The incubation period varies from 2-14 days. Some reports suggest outliers of 28 days. If true, a quarantine of 28 days for travellers returning from abroad, instead of present 14 days needs to be implemented.
The manifesting symptoms are similar to flu, cold and influenza, namely, cough, headache, throat ache, body ache, tummy upsets, breathlessness and finally pneumonia. Some may display a few, or none, remaining asymptomatic, with the propensity to spread the infection to others. According to a research study from China, diarrhoea is an early flag to likely complications later.
The virus once inside the nose is said to attack epithelial cells that line the respiratory tract. At this stage, the infection is said to cause a little more than a cold, and stays fine, as long as the virus stays put in the nose and the throat. The infection is less severe if limited to the upper respiratory tract. But the danger is when the virus reaches the lower respiratory tract, the peripheral branches of the respiratory tree and lung tissues.
Four out of five infected recover. One out of seven develops breathing difficulties and other complications. Only 6% become critical, which if it culminates, can result in death. Even after recovery, the virus can be shed for as long as five weeks, according to one report. This disease is now named Corona Virus Disease 2019 (Covid-19). It is the deadliest pandemic the world has ever witnessed.
‘A COMBINATION OF HIV, FLU AND MEASLES’
What makes this virus so special? How come it is responding to HIV-AIDS medicines? Is it a natural or a lab made virus, I asked an expert sometime during February
His answer was revealing. He said the virus is a combination of HIV, flu and measles. While HIV is life threatening, it cannot spread easily. While flu and measles spread very quickly, they are not life threatening. Such a combination of a life-threatening and quick-spreading virus does not occur in nature, nor can existing viruses mutate into one. Hence, in all probability, it has been created by someone insane. If he was trying to make a vaccine through this method, he is also an imbecile. The combination is very dangerous.
Until 19 March, Covid-19, in its dance of death, breached the defences of 177 nations, terrorising them and other remaining countries. Unmindful of their physical borders or security bloc affiliations. Ironically, this unabated attack on mankind is occurring in the month of March, bringing back dark memories of the Ides of March.
Covid-19 has changed the world order as never before. In its birth, this invisible Frankenstein monster brought an imperious China down on its knees, halting China’s march to invincibility. On 19 March, in 24 hours, Covid-19 had devoured 1,039 humans in 178 countries and facilities. Some, where more fatalities occurred were, Italy (427), Spain (192), Iran (149), France (108), USA (21), UK(40).
On 11 February, the director general of World Health Organisation (DGWHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, rightly observed, “Outbreaks can bring serious upheavals, consequences to the world…virus is more powerful in creating political, economic and social upheaval than any terrorist attack… It’s the number one enemy to the whole world and to the whole of humanity…”
Little wonder nations, political and religious leaders, administrators, scientists, technologists, researchers, medical personnel, defence forces, media and commoners have closed ranks to devise and implement strategies and tactics. The technology is being leveraged to the hilt. Control rooms resembling war rooms have been set up. Countries are implementing draconian measures to contain and delay the march of this juggernaut. Nations are forging non-military coalitions. These United World Coalitions are slowly rallying to sound bugles, and give a clarion call to battle. All this to defeat the enemy, the worst pandemic in a bid to save humanity.
While the worst seems to be behind China in over three months, thanks to ruthless, draconian measures implemented across board, their innate military training, taking and implementing orders unquestioningly, is something not common in many other nations.
Luckily for India so far the statistics seem to be in our favour making other countries including US to watch us with appreciation. It was reported that the CIA is watching how India handles the crisis. India, with a tally of 194 on 19 March 2020 (an increase of 25 cases from 18 March) ranks 48th among 177 infected countries; 20 infected have recovered, leaving 170 active cases. All this is a feather in every Indian’s cap. The efforts during the last five years to build toilets to stop open defecation, Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, efforts to clean rivers are a silver lining which may have helped.
All this can change very quickly if citizens are not vigilant or are not disciplined for even a fleeting moment, especially given our porous borders, inadequate capacity of health systems, penchant for disobeying orders and flouting rules to the detriment of community, lack of responsible citizenry, huge population living in congested places, poor drainage systems, non-existent town planning due to the private land mafia, a non-performing obliging corrupt inactive state administration, an inadequate or unwilling political leadership, polluted water bodies and rivers, already existing epidemics like typhoid, cholera, swine flu and bird flu, poor infrastructure, the impending summer with its own epidemics. All this is a perfect recipe relished by any virus.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leading from the front has already initiated a local coalition of SAARC countries. He has addressed the nation exhorting every citizen to pitch in. All his ministers and their ministries are on alert. All state governments are putting their best foot forward. The defence forces are pitching in. Police are shouldering additional load. The PSUs, media have pitched in educating the population. Immigration, land border check posts, airports and ports are working round the clock to screen every person entering India. The disaster management organization is on alert.
Notwithstanding all this, the requirement is for a decentralized, agile organization with leadership leading from the front at all levels—from the PM to the village level. The duty of the others is to give un-qualified support to this confederate matrix of leadership.
The government machinery has been at its full alert. While the Central government is strategizing the fight, disseminating information, advisories with alacrity, it has also sent 30 Joint Secretaries to the states and union territories to help the state governments. Government of India is aware of the looming danger. The healthcare system can be overwhelmed if a spurt in Covid-19 occurs. It is trying to stretch the phase-2 of this pandemic. To prevent the overloading of the healthcare system from diseases other than Covid-19, the government may well think of allowing vaccinating the population against disease such as bird flu and swine flu, cholera, typhoid, etc.
Despite all this, the irresponsible behaviour of some returning from abroad, at times with collusion of their family members is resulting in local transmission, and is putting the local population at risk. The governments must take courage and institute punitive measures including levying hefty fines on defaulters and their abettors. The laws must also be amended to award heavy punishments. In this scenario unless citizens cutting across all divides shoulder responsibility, remain vigilant, act in unison, the battle against the pandemic will be lost. It is said there are no runners-up in a war. Similarly, it would do us good to remember that in this battle against Covid-19 pandemic, all of us either win or perish together. We are at war.
DON’T BE THE WEAKEST LINK
The strength of a chain is that of its weakest link. The wily virus which has already mutated once is probing the human chain to exploit every chink to gain entry. In Navy, we are told that the tough gets going, when the going gets tough. It’s time that each world citizen collaborates, brings to fore ultimate toughness, ingenuity and every resource at his command to toughen the chain without becoming the weakest link. Time is running out—it is either now or never. It is also time for political and other leadership to show their concern for the masses by officially apportioning a portion of their assets. The battle has now passed into the hand to hand stage where only we can wrestle the Covid-19 trying to enter us.
Stay indoors and follow government advice. Stop functions, parties, don’t waste food, don’t hoard. Conserve every bit, save. We will need all that and much more in this battle. Do not look for outside help. It augurs well to remember God helps those who help themselves. Let’s wake up the soldier in us, offer services, expertise, resources unflinchingly. Let’s stay healthy and keep our environs, near and dear ones healthy. Someone more needy may need the hospital bed.
Unhesitatingly offer your service when called to. Pray for doctors, nurses and medical staff to be kept healthy. Thank the government administration and offer them positive suggestions without running them down. Don’t self medicate. Keep your lungs in good shape. Throw the cigarette. Oxygenate your body through deep breathing when you are healthy, to prime your organs to the pink of their health.
Commander P.K. Nagendra (Retired), Indian Navy, was commissioned as an electrical officer in the Navy while he was a student and was a scientist in Government of India when he retired. His over four decades’ experience in Navy, DGQA, DRDO, Government of India in advanced state of the art sensors, weapons, systems, system-of-systems, geographically spread systems special facilities, infrastructure of Navy, military, and security includes analysis, innovation, research, conceptualisation, design, development, synergising, engineering, productionisation, quality management, indigenisation, managing programs, projects, training, capacity building, international collaborations, installation, testing, optimizing, maintenance, operation.