Lessons from a pandemic
COVID-19 has educated humanity about the limits of its technological might and the folly of ravaging the natural world for its needs; writes Biswaraj Patnaik
For the first time in the history of mankind, an extremely fragile, near-dead organism has shaken up the mighty human race with an unprecedented fear of death. There have been several Coronaviruses ravaging mankind in the recent past. They invariably cause flu-like symptoms initially and eventually damage the respiratory system by affecting the lungs with acute pneumonia. The SARS virus of 2002 was very deadly but much less infective than the present Corona-crook which is less lethal but exceedingly infective. The RNA genetic material it carries is highly adaptive and can jump species easily. It dupes the host human cell and gets itself rereplicated by the confused host very fast. This situation is compounded by asymptomatic carriers.
Although it is observed that no more than twenty per cent of those infected show severe symptoms and a mere five per cent seek intensive care with respiratory support, the situation turns grave as healthcare personnel and facilities fall short due to the scale of the infection, severity aside.
The human race has been exposed to more than two hundred types of flu viruses that are routinely ignored, oftentimes even desired once in a while to boost immunity. But COVID-19 has taken the human race by the tail with its terribly huge infective capability.
Wise people and spiritual leaders say nature is taking strong steps to teach the human race a lesson for offending, ravaging and devouring all its scarce resources and creations without any effort to have them replenished. The planet has evolved systems that promote and support 'trans-species democracy' which has sustained life forms on the planet equitably. The greedy human race has broken that divine equilibrium and hence, the horrific wrath of nature on display.
There is more frightening info: the current Coronavirus is not the last guest afflicting the host human species. More are on way. No virus has any life of its own, so it isn't killed by any drug or medicine. No life or 'bios', so no antibiotic can kill the virus.
The only way to remain safe is to ward off the virus or hide away from it. Further, 'herd immunity' is difficult to attain in this case, as at least 60-70 per cent of the population needs to be infected to develop that universal fighting power. That is pretty much impossible in the current crisis in the absence of medical facilities on a huge scale.
From now on, more hospital beds with support systems to manage pneumonic conditions have to be organised fast as that is the only way save human lives. To fight viruses, vaccines are the only answer; but they cannot be developed overnight. At least one full year is required to come up with a fully tested safe vaccine unless miracles happen and vaccines come up in months.
Though Coronavirus is now known as the greatest enemy of mankind in thousands of years, it has also done a great deal of good to the living planet. Excessive 'Corona fear' has now forced industries to reduce the output of unnecessary luxury items. Combustion machines of all types currently run at less than five per cent capacity and most interestingly, human beings are happier eating simple home food, thereby persuading big food chains to close shop that consumed natural resources indiscriminately. Consequently, carbon emissions have declined like never before as reported by the 'Carbon Brief'. Most amusingly, fossil fuel vehicles are literally locked and kept away as if they never existed. The air around the planet has now turned as clean as in the early 19th century.
Internationally-acclaimed virologist Dr Ian Lipkin says the Covid-19 pandemic is only the beginning. Humanity has more such crises coming in the future. Only extensive changes in behaviour can keep us alive and healthy. Unnecessary economic activities have to be curbed so as to retard the rate at which strange, manageable health crises are emerging in quick succession.
Deforestation, population migration, international trade and travel have all been reduced to zero now and should remain low when minimal normalcy returns. People are back home with their families and are less likely to get sick from seasonal illnesses as is evident from empty beds at hospitals all around.
Since the Spanish Flu, there have been many epidemics such as AIDS, Nipah, Chikungunya, SARS-1, MERS, Swine-flu and more but none of those could hammer fear into the arrogant and unruly human mind as much as COVID-19 has. The last virus to impact the human psyche in such a major way was HIV which caused AIDS. But with awareness about necessary behavioural changes, HIV has been contained well enough. Besides, HIV did not have easy routes to enter the human body. People had to be extremely careless to catch the virus in most cases. But COVID-19 is so sly, unseen and ubiquitous that human beings have to live in constant fear.
Renowned medical experts and scientists are foreseeing more pandemic situations if human beings don't change how they interact with the natural environment all around. Diligence and prudence aside, it would do us good to recognise the critical fact that the Coronavirus has indeed civilised the human race. For the first time ever in human history, the entire so-called mighty species has come together as one family to fight the common enemy which does not even have a life of its own by itself. Survival is the only objective. Big things like money, political power and physical might have been tossed to the garbage yard. Suddenly mighty mankind seems to have woken up to the fact that it has to remain humble and give up its criminal ways of devouring away all that has been so caringly created by nature across millions of years! As Kierkegaard had said wisely not so very long ago, 'existence precedes essence' at all times, the present Corona crisis proves this point well enough.
Views expressed are strictly personal