The World Can Handle Covid-19
With Covid news many people find themselves between fed up of the information or have completely switched off. Media reporting can often be skewed and our personal prejudices make us paint narratives in our heads. The global handling of the pandemic has shown many “western” nations fail woefully, Africa “spared” and many parts of South Asia control the spread. Probably not what we were expecting when it all started. While only a few places are completely covid free, there are many points to be made on the successes and failures. In this post I will go through them and how they relate to human behaviour while trying to understand the individual responsibility we all have for the central goal of worldwide normality.
When reading this post I want your major takehome to be: The pandemic is controllable and the world can return to a form of normality.
The worst hit countries: United Kingdom(UK), United States(US), Brazil and India have similar approaches to how they have handled the virus. It is worth noting that India may be the only one of the group not pushing the strategy of herd immunity. Brazil has many similarities with the approach of the US and UK.
In India, the spread started with imported cases of Covid-19 to which they implemented quarantine measures but something went wrong. India saw a 10 time increase in cases over 15 days in March. India is still struggling and for reasons that aren’t so simple. India is a country with great inequality and opposite to the west, lockdown is not as simple due to the structure of the economy and overpopulation of many large cities. Street trading is what a lot of people rely on. India again the anomaly of the three nations has conversely shown that where there is good guidance ,covid can be controlled. In a slum settlement Covid cases were reduced to 1.3 per 100,000. For every 100,000 people there were only 1.3 covid cases. Even with its success in a community,an extended lockdown will only lead to starvation and violence in the poorest communities.
Brazil, just like India, has many large overpopulated cities and now has the second highest case rate after the USA. Brazil isn't even experiencing a second peak as the first one isn't over. Brazil has seen to date more than 5million cases and 160,000+ deaths. A key reason for Brazils “humanitarian disaster” points to the leadership. Political disagreement between local leaders, the scientific community and president Jair Bolsonaro being a key issue.
The US and UK have been heavily hit for a bag of reasons. Lack of urgency, economic priority, denial and arrogance being the few I can name. The US have made it seem that Covid-19 isn’t real, being the country with the least measures taken and the highest number of cases.These two nations have portrayed themselves as scientific powerhouses and if anywhere was to be prepared it should be them. It is quite ironic how the UK is a leader in developing the covid-19 vaccine but can’t control the virus ( insert conspiracy theory). In the early happenings of the pandemic both nations lacked urgency with leaders stating covid isn’t a threat and once the threat was obvious due to cases rising and uncontrollable spread they became “tolerent” of the virus, supporting the herd immunity stance.
'Herd immunity', also known as 'population immunity', is a concept used for vaccination, in which a population can be protected from a certain virus if a threshold of vaccination is reached. Herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it. - WHO
The herd immunity argument put by the leaders of the UK, US and Brazil is one with little to no standing . For more understanding read previous posts on vaccines: Part 1 and Part 2. Moving on from that, in the early months there seemed to be some sort of cohesion between the government and scientific advisors, but it seemed especially in the UK as time went on and the death toll of the virus became less of a worry, the government began to ignore scientific advice and prioritize the economy. While it is understandable a healthy balance is needed, stopping the virus and having systems in place would surely lead to a better economic situation than having the virus in full circulation. In the US, the tensions between the president and the scientific community is at an all time high with nature article detaiing“” How Trump damaged science”
What the UK, US and Brazil lack is clear messaging.This is not due to lack of expertise. If you follow most scientists, professionals with knowedge on public health, vaccines and immunity you hear their frustrations. A lot, trying to stop the spread of misinformation, but that becomes difficult if the government is against you. Science and politics are at an all time disagreement when it comes to decision making for the nations. All three leaders ( Brazil, UK, USA) ignore scientific advice while ironically waiting for a vaccine to “save us all”. There is no sense of urgency to get rid of the virus but more of a “live with it approach. As the UK and most of Europe enter a second lockdown is the virus controllable?
” If you find yourselves in one of these nations, like I do… How does one “live with a virus?
The Success stories
Let’s start where it all began: Wuhan, China. Wuhan to date of this post had 25 daily cases compared to peak numbers in February of 6900. There has been discussion on how Wuhan handled the virus. In a financial times article they highlight the early “failings” where scientists and government didn’t disclose the human to human spread of the virus in early december. The article also commends the incredible work done to curb the spread, including the strict lockdowns and strong messaging used to get them to where they are now. Another example of success is Australia. Australia has reported close to zero coronavirus cases. Having experienced two waves, the first had a peak of approximately 430 cases and second 715 with current current cases now below 15. The approach taken by Australia was also one of no tolerance or room for the virus, similar to Wuhan and is only easing lockdown restrictions now. Other covid-19 successes include Hong kong where current peak daily cases do not exceed 200.Finally, Taiwan’s handling of covid has been nothing less than impressive ! In March, they had a peak of 26 cases and 3 deaths and Taiwan to date of this post has just 5 cases. They have also recently reported 200 days without local transmission of the virus, meaning cases were imported.
Now, lets focus on Africa. The continent never seems to be the focus when things are good. Many attest the lack of viral spread due to preparedness and the very young median age of the continent. We know that covid affects the elderly more severely and that african nations have experience on mitigating the spread of disease: Ebola, Cholera, HIV, Malaria. African nations at the start of the pandemic were very strict in implementing border controls ( PCR testing at airports and temperature checks, which again is just becoming available in the UK ( not even PCR testing which is the gold standard). On the flipside some residents have also brought about arguments that there must be a biological explanation. The most popular suggesting a link between the popular hydroxychloroquine drug used - a common malaria treatment, to have provided some sort of protection against the virus or the simple answer of “ their immune system is built different” . Residents claim social distancing is now at a minimum and people aren't taking it as seriously. With the continent having collectively lower cases than some countries does give occupants a reason to relax.
To readers that may be wondering if there is a link with hydroxychloroquine, unfortunately there isn’t and we’ll just have to accept preparedness as a reason for success. Hydroxychoroquine has been trialed and tested in many covid patients and not found to be effective in reducing symptoms of the illness or decreasing chances of death. In many papers there was what seemed to be conflicting data around hydroxychloroquine as being an effective treatment. Without going into the “science” of it all, the main findings explain that the drug when used as a treatment in large studies has not been shown to improve patient recovery and with the added risk of heart rhythm complications it is not recommended. The studies that “supported” the use of the drug were ones that were found to have relatively small sample sizes and in many cases poorly designed.
Having seen what the world could look like without Covid-19 or with “manageable cases”
I ask again…. How does one “live with a virus” ?
In the spirit of living with it? How many people are aware of the long term effects that covid-19 could possibly have or the damaging effects it has on people vulnerable: financially or health wise. While we decide to live with it, are we thinking solely from an individualistic point of view or as a community, The former holds. A person with “pre existing conditions cannot just “live with” the threat of a virus daily, shielding will not work forever but what will work is a community centred approach like the aforementioned successful nations. A plan of action that involves all parties and a clear strategy of “no tolerance”.
A second stance on “living” with the virus is taking part in vaccination trials if the herd immunity strategy is one you believe in . For herd immunity to work there needs to be a working vaccine for the entire world population. As vaccine trials expand the worry of the data not being representative of communities hit the worst are things we have to come to terms with. In Brazil, UK and US black people are found to ne more affected by the virus and not because of genetic bullshit reasons but the reality of the world we live in. Poor access to health care, racisim and lack of trust in systems.
When we get the vaccine who will it be given to first and how effective will it be? In my first mini project on public perception of science, of 145 responders, only and handful said they will take the vaccine! The Black commmunity have a lot of reasons to mistrust science so to think living with a virus thats main hope is a cure from science is a long stretch. While we wait for a vaccine we need to mend the relationship between science and the general public and also find a way to get politics to work towards the policies that will benefit all of society and not the elite.
To end, how do we handle covid-19? Could it be as simple as monitoring borders, temperature checks and readily available PCR test? Should there have been stricter lockdowns worldwide or do we wait for vaccinations and continue the dangerous balancing act? Is it so hard to beleive that in order to move on and not be devastated by covid -simple approaches work as long as there is clear messaging, trust and guidance?
I have followed covid-19 updates since March. Here a few of the articles I highly recommend reading to get an even better picture of things happening. Alternatively you can follow me @AhhdamnHer or @catalystinme_and never miss my random updates.
Previous Vaccine posts
Tcim: Public perception of science: Videos on how vaccines work, explaining wrong doings of science and more.