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Learn to live with corona virus, prepare health systems for the next challenge

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 As this issue of your newspaper goes to print, our country and the world remain in the thick of the battle with the corona virus, which has brought normal life, as we have seen and experienced, to a grinding halt.

Thus far, India has been relatively unscathed, with some fifty thousand cases of the virus and some 1700 deaths due to the virus. While this data is also quite sobering, there is some room for relief when we compare it with the plight of countries like the US, Italy, the UK, France, Spain etc. where deaths have been in tens of thousands.

The death rate is also quite low in India, being a little above three percent of the total number of cases. When one considers the fact that many cases are going unreported, particularly because a vast number of corona-positives are asymptomatic, the death rate is even lower. The very low death rate and hospitalization rate has meant that the initial fear and panic in the populace is now receding. After all, this virus kills, but rarely, and most people who get it recover on their own without having to go to the hospital.

Take the case of an incident in Kanpur. A team of medics and doctors had gone to a congested locality to tell the family of a single corona positive person that they should go into home quarantine. It was a small matter, since there was only one positive case and the recommendation was for home quarantine. However, as the team was leaving the locality after doing its job, stones were pelted at the doctors and the police. Ten miscreants were rounded up and brought to the police station. As is mandatory prior to arrest, they were tested and four out of the ten were found corona positive, though asymptomatic enough to have engaged the police in a street battle. The point is that the system thought that there was only one corona positive there and the family needed to be quarantined, but in actuality four out of ten that were picked up for a crime were found corona positive. Clearly, the area would be swarming with corona positives and the true picture would emerge only if massive testing is done.

This brings us to the point that many people are out there in our towns and cities who are corona positives without knowing it. They are spreading the virus to others every minute of the day. And, those who receive the virus are spreading it further. After a period of some three weeks or so, every corona positive individual acquires immunity to the virus and can no longer transmit it. So, with every passing day and week, more and more individuals are getting this immunity without even knowing it. Since the corona virus is quite contagious, it will not be long before a majority in an office or in any group acquire this immunity, which would make it progressively difficult for others to catch the virus in that place.

How will we know that this kind of immunity has set in? It should be reflected in the rate of infection that is detected in tests. Health Ministry officials have told us that till now 4.5% of those tested are found to be corona positive and this percentage has remained steady. It is when this percentage starts falling that we can surmise that happy days are coming.

Take the case of Kerala, where this virus first set foot in India when three students came here from Wuhan. So, the corona virus had a head start in Kerala and has been afflicting the populace for the maximum time. It may be noted that in the past few days, there has been no fresh case in this state. Does it point to a large number of people in the state having become immune?

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi first imposed the lockdown in India, the entire country was truly scared. We did not know the nature of this virus at that time. Now we know a little bit about it. The death rate is low and most people do not have any serious health issue if they get corona. However, even this virus which is relatively mild in warmer climes has exposed the inadequacy of our healthcare network.

Viruses have this penchant for mutating, changing form, and striking again on a future date. What if the version of this virus which comes on a future date has a higher death rate? What if it can survive the heat of South Asia? We have to treat this wave of the pandemic as a warning bell, and prepare our healthcare infrastructure to deal with a health emergency on a much larger scale when the next wave comes.

Meanwhile, let us adjust, play totally safe, and learn to carry on our lives in the company of the corona virus. The mantra is to boost your immunity and to take good care of your health.


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