2020 – The Year of the Corona

2020 – The Year of the Corona

The year 2020 may well be designated as the year of the Corona or COVID-19. This is indeed unique year in the history of mankind as a virus, which is smaller than a microorganism, turned the entire world topsy turvy. Every nation, every topography, every region, and people across caste, creed, religion or age demography have been hit hard by the virus directly or indirectly. The direct impact is the people who suffered the virus, some even succumbing to fatal nature, and the indirect sufferers are all other people hit hard by lockdowns and other measures taken by confused governments to prevent the spread of the virus.

Bio-technologists, bio-engineers, scientists, doctors and researchers across the world are now working hard to create a vaccine (similar to polio, small pox or any other epidemic disease vaccine) even as human life is limping back under a regimen of new normalcy. The new normal mandates people to wear masks and maintain physical distancing of a minimum of six feet as the virus is known to spread through droplets from the facial fluids (nose and mouth, while infections can also happen through tears of the eye). Other than this the scientists, experts, governments and common people have no other clue about the virus with many governments now being accused of not following the right procedures or taking the right actions to contain the spread of the pandemic.

Though fingers have been pointed at China for the spread of the pandemic from the bat market in Hubei Province of Wuhan, the truth is that the whole world is today struggling with practically every segment of society left in a clueless, confused and chaotic state.  According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) website there are 32,029,704  confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 979,212 deaths, as on September 25, 2020. On March 11, 2020, the WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. Data from China have indicated that older adults, particularly those with serious underlying health conditions, are at higher risk for severe COVID-19–associated illness and death than younger persons.

What are coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are actually common throughout the world and can cause respiratory illness in people and animals. There are several known coronaviruses that infect people and usually only cause mild respiratory disease such as the common cold. However at least two previously identified coronaviruses have caused severe illness – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) coronavirus and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus.

The virus can cause a range of symptoms, ranging from mild illness to pneumonia. Though common symptoms of the disease are fever, cough, sore throat and headaches, experts are identifying other possible symptoms that can affect the kidneys or the heart too. The air of uncertainty definitely continues.

COVID-19 nomenclature

Illness caused by SARS-CoV-2 was termed COVID-19 by the WHO, the acronym derived from “coronavirus disease 2019.” The name was chosen to avoid stigmatising the virus’s origins in terms of populations, geography or animal associations. On February 11, 2020, the Coronavirus Study Group of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses issued a statement announcing an official designation for the novel virus: severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

COVID-19 appeared in Wuhan, a city in China, in December 2019. Reports of the first COVID-19 cases were revealed in December 2019. Although health officials are still tracing the exact source of this new coronavirus, early hypotheses thought it may be linked to a seafood market in Wuhan, China. Some people who visited the market developed viral pneumonia caused by the new coronavirus. A study that came out on January 25, 2020, noted that the individual with the first reported case became ill on December 1, 2019, and had no link to the seafood market. Officials announced the first 2019-nCoV-related death, recorded in Wuhan on January 9,2020. Investigations are ongoing as to how this virus originated and spread.

Diagnosis may be difficult with only a physical examination because mild cases of COVID-19 may appear similar to the flu or a bad cold. A laboratory test can confirm the diagnosis.

(Read also: Chinese Virologist Claims COVID-19 Originated From Wuhan Lab)

Spread to other countries…

The first confirmed coronavirus cases outside China occurred on January 20, 2020 in Japan, Thailand and South Korea. Health officials in Thailand and Japan announced on January 13 that they have confirmed 2019-nCoV infections in travelers in their respective countries, the first outside of China. The two countries began to screen anyone arriving from Wuhan. US confirmed its first case on January 21, where officials confirmed that a man in Washington State, who had recently returned from a trip to the Wuhan area, was infected with the novel coronavirus.

On January 24, the first two European cases were confirmed in France. By February 1, eight European nations had confirmed cases of COVID-19 and a month later that count had risen to 24 countries with at least 2,200 cases, most of them in Italy. On March 11, Italy eclipsed 10,000 cases and the WHO declared the outbreak a pandemic — the first since H1N1 in 2009. That’s also when China, the original epicenter, began seeing drops in daily counts of new cases. March also saw exponential spread of the virus throughout the U.S., with all 50 states reporting cases by March 17.

India confirmed its first case on January 30 in the state of Kerala. The affected had a travel history from Wuhan, China. India has so far recorded 5.73 million cases and 91,149 deaths.

Intense lockdowns

Countries around the world are implementing measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus, from national quarantines to school closures. More than a third of the planet ‘s population is under some form of restriction. While “lockdown” isn’t a technical term used by public-health officials, it can refer to anything from mandatory geographic quarantines to non-mandatory recommendations to stay at home , closures of certain types of businesses, or bans on events on events and gatherings.

Six European countries — Spain, Italy, Denmark, Austria, Poland, and the Czech Republic — that have previously imposed restrictions are beginning to lift lockdown measures , although they’ve had varying levels of success in tackling their respective outbreaks. Some countries like England and Spain are now mulling to impose some form of restriction as the fear of a second wave has spread.

In the case of India, on 24 March 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a nationwide lockdown for 21 days, limiting movement of the entire 1.3 billion population as a preventive measure against the spread of COVID-19 pandemic in India. The lockdown was implemented when the number of confirmed positive coronavirus cases in India was approximately 500.Observers stated that the lockdown had slowed the growth rate of the pandemic by April 6 to a rate of doubling every six days, and by April 18, to a rate of doubling every eight days.

As the end of the first lockdown period approached, state governments and other advisory committees recommended extending the lockdown. The governments of Odisha and Punjab extended the state lockdowns to May 1. Maharashtra, Karnataka, West Bengal and Telangana followed suit. On April 14, Prime minister Modi extended the nationwide lockdown until May 3 with conditional relaxations after April 20 for the regions where the spread had been contained or was minimal.

On May 1, the Government of India extended the nationwide lockdown further by two weeks until May 17. The Government divided all the districts into three zones based on the spread of the virus – green, red and orange – with relaxations applied accordingly. On May 17, the lockdown was further extended till May 31 by the National Disaster Management Authority.

On May 30, it was announced that strict lockdown restrictions would be lifted from non-containment zones (containment zones are areas where there is a rapid spread and higher cases of virus patients), while curbs would be in place till June 30 in containment zones. The ‘Unlock 1.0’ saw the slow re-opening economic activities that had been hit heard throwing the entire population into a dizzy. Though Modi later clarified that the lockdown phase in the country was over and the ‘unlock’ phase would begun, the pandemic situation had not been brought under control. In fact, the pandemic spread faster post the ‘unlock’ periods.

Global economy in doldrums

The pandemic pushed the global economy into a recession leading to the shrinking of the economic growth of all the countries in the world.

In the US, COVID-19-related disruptions led to millions filing for unemployment benefits. In April alone, the figures were at 20.5 million. As per a report, since March 21, more than 36 million filed for unemployment benefits, which is almost a quarter of the working-age population. India has been no exception and the chaos of the lockdown resulting in a number of workers/labourers migrating to their native homes added to the slump in economic growth. India had been also experiencing a pre-pandemic slowdown economically as well, and the pandemic has helped in magnifying pre-existing risks present in India’s economic outlook, the World Bank said. Before the pandemic, rating agencies had revised India’s economic growth for the fiscal year of 2021 as one of the lowest figures India has encountered since the 1990s economic liberalisation of the country.

But, ever since the announcement of the economic package in mid-May, India’s GDP estimates have been downgraded further into the negative figures, signalling a deep recession for the nation. Rating agency CRISIL has announced that this could be India’s worst recession period ever since its Independence in 1947.

State Bank of India’s research has concluded that there may be over a 40% contraction in India’s GDP, and may vary all over the country depending on the sector and state, among other parameters.

Between the months of March and April, unemployment in the nation rose from 6.7% to 26%, by a factor of almost four times larger than pre-pandemic numbers. An estimated 140 million citizens have lost their employment status during the heavy lockdown that India was (and still may be) under.

Impact on education

Education has been the most impacted across the world as school, colleges and educational institutions were shutdown to prevent gatherings of some of the most vulnerable sections of society (children).  The near-total closures of schools, universities, and colleges worldwide has reshaped nearly every aspect of normal life. Based on UNESCO data, more than a billion (yes, billion with a B!) students were thrown into very uncertain waters as the pandemic put a halt to in-person classes and courses.

From primary schools to PhD programs, students across the globe are experiencing the ill effects of coronavirus as classrooms move online and course curriculums stretch into the summer.  Both students and teachers have been burdened with the task of adapting to an online learning environment seemingly overnight. As well, many parents have been forced to take on roles of IT technician, teacher and babysitters as children remain struck at home.

Although the stark consequences of COVID-19 have thrown both families and the education industry into a loop, the sudden switch to digital learning has brought with it a few valuable lessons. In fact, the future of education has been transformed to not only accommodate online classrooms, but embrace a digital education.

Sports hit hard

Sports activities came to a grinding halt again to prevent gathering of people in stadia and sports venues. All sports across the world took a big hit due to the total lockdown of sporting activities. The biggest sporting victim of the pandemic was the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, originally scheduled to be held from July24 to August 9. The Olympic Games have been shifted to 2021, there is still an air of uncertainty as no vaccine has so far been discovered to control the pandemic. However, the Games will retain the Tokyo 2020 name. The announcement came 122 days before the planned opening ceremony at the newly-built National Stadium in the Japanese capital.

Wimbledon 2020 cancelled

The Wimbledon 2020 championships were cancelled for the first time since World War II as the coronavirus pandemic struck another blue-riband sports event off the calendar and wiped out the entire tennis grasscourt season. While many other sports events were also cancelled across the globe, some events in tennis, cricket, golf and football have started resuming slowly albeit under a ‘new normal’ of empty stadia. With the cancellation of the T20 cricket world championship in Australia, one of the hotspots of the virus, the much-hyped IPL cricket tournament was shifted to venues in the United Arab Emirates and the tournament is ongoing. The tournament originally scheduled to be held in India, another hotspot for the virus, during the March-April window had to be moved out of the country and is currently being played to empty stadiums.

How the pandemic will look like in 2021

The long-term outlook of the coronavirus pandemic will largely depend on two things, experts say: The population developing immunity against the virus after being exposed (commonly known as herd immunity), and the arrival of a vaccine against the virus. As of now, not much is known about whether people have, in fact, built immunity against the coronavirus or for how long that immunity may last. “The total incidence of [coronavirus infection] through 2025 will depend crucially on this duration of immunity,” Yonatan Grad, an epidemiologist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Marc Lipsitch, also an epidemiologist at Harvard, and colleagues wrote in a report published in the journal ‘Science’ in May.

If the novel coronavirus follows a similar pattern to the coronavirus that causes SARS, for instance, antibodies a person develops against the new coronavirus could last at a high level for five months, and then slowly decline over two to three years, Grad, Lipsitch, and colleagues surmised. Under such a circumstance, people would build moderate immunity to the virus, which could mean that the virus could temporarily vanish for a few years and then resurge, they explained.

And if people develop permanent immunity to the novel coronavirus after exposure, transmission of the virus could burn out and nearly vanish by 2021, researchers say.

Vaccine trials

As of September 2020, there were 321 vaccine candidates in development, a 2.5 fold increase since April. However, no candidate has completed clinical trials to prove its safety and efficacy. In mid-September, some 42 vaccine candidates were in clinical research: namely 33 in Phase I–II trials and 9 in Phase II–III trials.

Previous work to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus diseases SARS and MERS established considerable knowledge about the structure and function of coronaviruses – which accelerated rapid development during early 2020 of varied technology platforms for a COVID‑19 vaccine.

Human clinical trials for a vaccine for Covid-19 have also been conducted in India with approximately 1,000 volunteers participating in the exercise for each of the two indigenously developed vaccine candidates. The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) has permitted two vaccines – one developed by Bharat Biotech International Limited in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research and another one by Zydas Cadila Healthcare Ltd – to go in for the first and second phase of human clinical trials.

Read also:

Some general WHO guidelines on COVID-19

Trump, Biden spar over handling of coronavirus

‘Follow corona guidelines, make planet healthy’

Compiled by: Preethi Jayaraman

Edited by: Trinity Mirror Online Team

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