2 June, 2020

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Covid-19: Not A Tropical Hoax But Grave Cause For Global Precaution 

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

Four weeks ago, on February 28, Donald Trump called the coronavirus “their (Democrats) new hoax”, at a rally of his faithful followers in South Carolina. There were 64 Covid-19 cases in the US then and no deaths. The next day, he assured the Conservative Political Action Conference that he had everything under control. On March 9, Trump downplayed the virus threat as a matter of 546 cases and 22 deaths and comparing them to the 37,000 US deaths in 2019 due to the common flu. Two days later, on March 11, after the WHO declared Covid-19 a global pandemic, Trump addressed the nation for the first time, acknowledging the seriousness of the crisis. Two more days later he declared national emergency. Now, 28 days after Trump called it a hoax, the US leads the world with over 100,000 cases and 1500 deaths. And the curve is still climbing  

No other national leader in modern history has been so belligerently negligent as the current American president. But Trump’s hoax claim has found a feeble echo in South Asia, where some politically naïve pseudo-progressive critics are calling governmental responses to Covid-19 as unwarranted overkill because the coronavirus will not survive in the tropical temperatures of South Asian countries. Fortunately, no one is seriously buying this nonsense, but the still relatively low numbers of cases in Sri Lanka and India may give credence to this mistaken view and induce cynicism and complacency among the people. Neither is welcome, and as The Island in Colombo said in its editorial on Saturday, “complacency can kill.”             

There is ongoing discussion in the emerging scientific literature about the seasonal traits of the novel coronavirus. But it would be a gross exaggeration to suggest that there is even a debate among scientists about the survivability of the virus in cooler and warmer temperatures. The consensus is that it is too early to draw any firm conclusion after a mere six-month experience with a new virus. From early on in the virus outbreak, its global trajectory has been noted to be in an east-west path between the 30th and 50th parallels in the northern hemisphere known for its moderate temperatures and low humidity, and known as well – as the wine region in Western Europe. A similar pathway is now being observed to a lesser extent the 30th and 50th parallels in the southern hemisphere, which too is a wine region from Chile in South America to South Australia down under. The restricted-latitudinal path excludes cooler temperature regions to the north (Russia, Mongolia) and warmer temperatures to the south (South Asia, Africa). 

“Temperature, Humidity and Latitude Analysis to Predict Potential Spread and Seasonality for COVID-19” is the title of a March 9/March 26 research paper (accessible online) by a team of medical scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. They studied cities in all regions of the world with and without Covid-19 cases, and found the current coronavirus outbreak to be having a strong correlation with (restricted) latitude, temperature and humidity. However, the research authors advise extreme caution against assuming a direct causal relationship between them or making near term predictions, without considering all other relevant explanatory variables such as climate (cloud cover, maximum temperature, etc.), human factors (impact of public health interventions, concentrated outbreaks like cruise ships, travel, etc.), and viral factors (mutation rate, pathogenesis, etc.), none of which were considered or analysed in their study. 

With coronavirus being a recently introduced virus without pre-existing immunity, its seasonal variations and off-seasonal peaks are expected to be unpredictable. However, the Maryland scientist proffer potential scenarios for the immediate future of the coronavirus: “It could perhaps prevail at low levels or cause several seasonal peaks in tropical regions similar to influenza, cause outbreaks in the Southern Hemisphere at the same time, and begin to rise again in late fall and winter in temperate regions in the upcoming year. One other possibility is that, combined with intensive public health efforts, it will not be able to sustain itself in the summer in the tropics and Southern Hemisphere and disappear, just as SARS-CoV did so in 2003; however, the ever-increasing number of cases worldwide make this increasingly less likely.”   

The Spanish flu

Where does all of this leave the governments of South Asian countries in the fight against Covid-19? Is it a tropical hoax? Or, have the governments of Sri Lanka and India overreacted? The Sri Lankan President and his now permanently caretaker government were initially reluctant to undertake the aggressively preventive measures that they are now creditably undertaking. And they might justifiably feel vindicated by the three-week  “Janata curfew” that the Modi government has imposed in India. 

I have not come across any criticism of the Indian government’s curfew decision by healthcare professionals or medical scientists. The main criticism is a political one, and it is about the government’s preparedness and capacity to help the vast mass of the Indian people with slender resources to feed themselves during this long and unprecedented shutdown. The same logistical problem is a concern in Sri Lanka. And more politically in the case of Sri Lanka, a legitimate criticism of the government could be that it is using the emergency Covid-19 situation to conduct unsupervised cleanups of the old Rajapaksa cupboards and stables. But first things first.           

The concept of ‘precautionary principle’ is commonly applied in furthering environmental conservation and the protection of endangered species. The principle is used to implement precautionary measures against human encroachment into nature even when scientific evidence of the impacts of such encroachment is not comprehensively established. The people of South Asia deserve no less when confronted by a deadly pandemic regardless of doubts about the survivability and severity of the coronavirus in tropical climate. 

India had no choice and imposing a three-week curfew was the most cost-effective and medically sensible way that was open to the Modi government to prevent a monumental calamity. Modeling projections were showing that as much as 55% of the people could get infected, and deaths of one to two million. Understandably so in a densely populated country with about 100 million people more than 60 years old, and paltry health resources except for the very rich. India is too big and does not have South Korea’s per capita resources to undertake a satisfactorily extensive testing program. And giving publicity to testing and opening it to the public would have led to a national stampede and even riots. 

Shutting the country for three weeks, on the other hand, would see off the incubation period of the virus and its transmission threshold, and will curb the spread of infection. Hopefully, the three-week shutdown will leave behind a manageable residual level of infection. And if the worst fears are not materialized, tropical coronaviral deniers would be welcome to celebrate their perverse politics. 

Historical memories of India’s experience of the 1918 Spanish flu would have weighed more heavily on Indian policy minds than fanciful speculations of a tropical pass from the coronavirus. A pandemic of the H1N1 influenza virus, the Spanish flu sailed into Bombay (now Mumbai) aboard a British naval ship and mercilessly ravaged the country taking out 17 to 18 million Indians, a whole 6% of the Indian population that then included both West Punjab (now Pakistan) and East Bengal (now Bangladesh).

Worldwide, the Spanish flu is estimated to have killed between 50 and 100 million people. The flu spread was not latitudinally restricted and the name Spanish flu came about because news about the flu was suppressed by the governments and the media in the countries fighting Europe’s World War One. The (western) media freely reported on the flu in Spain that was a neutral country in the war. Only covidiots can bet on the tropical weakness of the novel coronavirus and take the risk of letting the people of South Asia suffer again as they did when ravaged by the Spanish flu a century ago. Policy and decision makers have no such luxury. 

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Latest comments

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    Besides, the accusation of spreading as a result of bioweapon, some argue, that common cold which has so many viral strains, so many types can be a result of meteorites that are passing by the earth and they disperse virus particles. We can assume the same thing happened this time too. Then the question comes why only selected countries first and other countries kept silent saying it won’t be our problem. I am talking developed western countries and not countries like India, Maldive Island etc who get lot of tourists and depend on foreign remittances too.
    It also should be a problem to the part of the world where a higher percentage is elderly citizens over 65 years and some live passed 90 years. Think how they get it positive or negative ?

  • 1
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    This is a must read. Brings together the latest facts and thinking. Carefully researched. Sri Lanka’s pseudo-scientists and irresponsible and phony scribes who clog social media with opinionated and witless outpourings would do well to study how it’s done.

  • 1
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    This is a must read. Brings together the latest scientific facts and thinking. Carefully researched. Sri Lanka’s pseudo-scientists and irresponsible and phony scribes who clog social media with opinionated and witless outpourings would do well to study how it’s done here.

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    Phillips: Coronavirus Panicdemic and mass hysteria is a form of Groupthink — a psychological phenomenon that occurs when a group forms a quick opinion that matches the group consensus, rather than critically evaluating the information.
    Understandable that elderly commentators like you are terrified of Covid 19 panicdemic as it attacks the elderly?!
    Groupthink mass hysteria is what is happening in Sri Lanka at this time, WTO, GMOA, and the Regime with USAID funding robots and surveillance platforms are laying the foundation for the USAID surveillance state and dictatorship of the Sri Lanka American brothers first families ..
    the attack on China’s 5 G and Huawei is on
    Orwell’s 1984 unfolding with Lankan and Indian Guinea pigs…

  • 0
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    Trump Downplayed the virus threat, Trump was taking it light due to the military power or superiority and science on the head , and with tis big head he was speaking the the virus i s overtaking the all power what can the guns missle the the other power do the virus is invisible and so musch spent on military, and not given to feed the poot every perssone has a power they can toxicate the world now people people are distancing all are covering the face before they look the people covering the face are terrorist. a minister who leads a weekly Bible study group for President Donald Trump’s cabinet, released a new interpretation arguing that the crisis represents an act of God’s judgment. is a form of God’s wrath upon nations,

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    The impact of coronavirus has to analyzed carefully. When USA, Italy, Spain, England, China and other countries are and still affected, it is a mystery that the death rate in India with its 1.3 billion population is very low. I think Rudraksha trees (the botanical name of which is ELAEOCARPUS GANITRUS) which are in abundance along the Himalayan range which is on the border between India and China is the main reason. At this juncture, mention should be made that Rudraksha seeds acts as neutralizing sources for any excessive harmful charge (it can be coronavirus) received by the human body. Many scientific researches throughout the world have proved its electromagnetic properties which work magically on the human body. Moreover, social distance has been defeated by Rudraksha beads which revealed that their effect expands to about 100 meters around, protecting the wearer and environment from all kinds of negative energy. It appears that Rudrakshe beads have mystic powers to protect the mankind. Therefore, in stead of taking such precautions is it not desirable for scientists to explore the significance of Rudraksha.

  • 2
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    CT,
    Sorry to put the virologist hat again. I last wrote a comment on inaccuracies and misconceptions on an article titled ‘A Bell Tolls For The World’.
    /
    Unfortunately, this current item by Mr Philip (no idea who he is, except that he has made it clear that he has no background in science) that is sowing the seed of panic bordering on paranoia on the COVID 19 situation in Sri Lanka.
    /
    The writer has built a straw man argument in picking on someone’s comment that the virus will not survive the hot and humid conditions in South Asia. This argument and its criticism are both based on the ignorance of basic scientific facts relating to viruses. Viruses do not have the capacity to flourish indefinitely in any environment outside a cell of another species that it is capable of breaking in to and replicate in an intriguing way (that is too complex to describe in this forum). The bottom line is environmental temperature and humidity are neither here, nor there as far as the pathogenicity, transmissibility or virulence of viruses are concerned.
    /
    Next, he displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the precautionary principle in describing it as “is used to implement precautionary measures against human encroachment into nature even when scientific evidence of the impacts of such encroachment is not comprehensively established”. This is utterly false, and it has limited applicability in public health, limited by other competing approaches, like nonpharmaceutical isolation.
    /
    Writing as a person whose PhD at the University of Michigan was on the ‘Lessons of the Influenza pandemic of 1918-19, I have to point out that the number of dead from that event cited in the writer’s account (up to 100 million, and the number of deaths in India far exceed even the worst exaggerations. It is considered around 20 million around the world.

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      Must we take this man seriously? Someone who claims to be a virologist with a PhD but who lacks ability to comprehend simple English? He gets it all mixed up, doesn’t he? Cutting and pasting obvious facts with bizarre commentary. University of Michigan indeed! The portals of any university would be befouled were he to pass through.

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        I find such cowardly attack under a pseudonym beneath contempt.
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        Blame your inability to understand what is said in my comment on your own stupidity.
        /
        You are a shameless oxygen thief

  • 3
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    This is the second time I’m reading a comment by this man, Vajira Gunawardena. As here, the first time also he boasted he had a PhD, holding it in front like a Kaduwa. Then too his first line shouted that he was a “qualified virologist”. A further brag was that he was “without pretensions”. Then he went on to give us his take on Covid-19 – just general stuff you read in the media and from where he would have got it, nothing useful. On that occasion someone with the name of Shamee de Silva deservedly called Gunawardena a moron. Now our Dhostara Mahatmaya seems to have got all muddled by reading the clear English and lucid presentation by Rajan Philips on Covid-19. All statements by Philips are accurately sourced and presented so general readers can understand. But Dhostara Gunawardena tells us, with misplaced authority, that he has a PhD from the University of Michigan and that only he has accurate facts and figures on the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. He qualifies that with a single figure from Mr Google, who in fact gives us a range of figures. The rest of his 300 words are mere silly comments and then someone with the pseudonym Dionysus calls them bizarre. That gets Gunawardena all worked up, and he calls Dionysus a coward for writing under a pseudonym. Gunawardena must know a thing or two about pseudonyms. No Vajira Gunawardena is listed as having obtained a PhD in any University of Michigan online websites. Aiyio! GCE fail?

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