4 April, 2020

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What Is South Asia’s Secret Versus Covid-19?

By Niresh Eliatamby

Niresh Eliatamby

Medical researchers who are hunting for treatments for Coronavirus or Covid-19 that has afflicted nearly half a million people worldwide should take a long hard look at South Asia. While much of the world is battling huge outbreaks of the pandemic, South Asia has led a charmed life – so far.

As of 26th March 2020, a total of 472,907 people globally have tested positive for Covid-19, of whom 21,315 have died (source: Worldometers.info). The Far East, Middle East, Europe and North America are all struggling to cope with the pandemic, with South America and Australia-New Zealand somewhat less so.

But in the eight South Asian nations of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives, there have so far been a paltry 2,026 positive cases, with a meagre 28 deaths (source: Worldometers.info).

Let that sink in. A region that is home to 1.9 billion people comprising 25% of the world’s population, many of whom live much below the global poverty line, has registered only 0.43% of Covid-19 cases up to now. The mortality rate is even lower, with only 0.13% of global deaths from Covid-19 being in South Asia. Four of the eight nations haven’t suffered a single death yet.

Only three of the eight nations have registered even 100 cases each. In fact, many cases in these eight nations are imported ones, being foreign tourists and returning migrant workers who contracted the disease in Europe, China or the Middle East. The rate of Community Spread has been astonishingly low and quite baffling. One would think that the squalid, overcrowded conditions in the megacities of India and Bangladesh would have been a hellish breeding ground for Covid-19. Yet, this has not been so, three months into the outbreak as shown in the table below.

Covid-19 cases and deaths as at 26th March 2020 (source: Worldometers.info)

When one considers that the region has a 6,800 km border with China to the north and Iran to the west, nations that are among the hardest hit by this pandemic, the lack of success of Covid-19 in South Asia is baffling. That’s a very long land border that Covid-19 should have crossed with ease, although of course traffic across the Chinese border isn’t in huge volumes – this isn’t the Autobahn. India shares a 3,488 km border with China (the exact number is disputed due to border disputes); Nepal has a 1,414 km border with China; Pakistan, which has had the largest number of the region’s positive cases, shares a 1,432 km land border with Iran and China (disputed); and Bhutan a 470 km border with China. Granted, none of them border Hubei Province, the original epicenter of the pandemic, but that’s still a very long border.

South Asia’s governments cannot be said to have been particularly proactive in taking steps to prevent the spread of the virus, although of course definitely more so than the United States and Europe. For example, India’s 21-day lockdown of the entire nation only went into effect on 25th March. That’s a full two months that the virus had to spread in the Subcontinent. Yet, in comparison to Europe, the USA and China, Covid-19 has had little impact on the health of South Asia.

Many theories have gone viral as to South Asia’s apparent immunity, from its climate of heat and humidity, to ingredients in a common soup named Rassam, to the generally spicy food, to the toughness of South Asian people’s immune systems due to frequent exposure to many exotic diseases. Yet, none of these theories appears practical. The entire population of South Asia does not consume rassam as the different cultures in the region have different dietary habits. Spicy food is found in other regions of the world. Another theory is that there may be underreporting of cases due to a lack of testing. But this is unlikely since hospitals simply haven’t had thousands of people falling sick across the region.

It would be quite doubtful indeed to make any claim that hygiene habits in South Asia are more healthful than in the rest of the world. Neither can it be said that authorities have been remarkably successful at implementing social distancing. For example, Sri Lanka’s President publicly complained that his attempts to implement social distancing were hindered by tens of thousands of the country’s Buddhists taking advantage of the closure of schools to make a ritual pilgrimage up the holy mountain of Adam’s Peak; and two weekends during which thousands gathered at cricket grounds to watch schools play their annual rivalries of cricket ‘Big Matches’.

Neither is the number of cases accelerating in South Asia to any great extent, in contrast to Europe and the United States. In fact, it isn’t at all clear whether South Asian nations have been successful at flattening the curve because the curve in those countries isn’t large enough to detect a significant flattening.

If I were to hazard a guess, I would guess that Covid-19 doesn’t thrive in the hot and humid environmental conditions in South Asia. A few early studies appear to point in that direction. Every organism has a particular temperature range that it thrives at – polar bears and penguins love the cold; camels prefer the heat. The same goes for plants – coconut trees and rice prefer the tropics. Many bacteria and viruses also have the same constraints. Perhaps Covid-19 dislikes the tropics (although Brazil has reported 2,554 cases and Indonesia 790 cases, both tropical countries. Malaysia has also reported a significant increase in the past several days).

The only other region of the world that appears to have had comparable success versus Covid-19 so far is Africa. However, it could be argued that Africa does not have the airline connectivity to China and Europe that South Asia does, and hence would probably be the last region that the virus would spread to in significant numbers.

Perhaps I am speaking too soon and the pandemic may spread significantly in South Asia in the coming weeks. But after watching the region’s charmed life for more than two months, I think it warrants closer investigation by more qualified experts as to why Covid-19 doesn’t seem to like South Asia.

*Niresh Eliatamby, MBA, LL.M., counts three decades in journalism and mass communications

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Latest comments

  • 3
    2

    A very useful analysis for researchers who concentrates on developing vaccines and other measures to control Corona or any other viruses. There is also another theory that is going viral is that it is an artificial virus in the laboratory (bio -weapon) produced by China targeting western countries. Trump called this as a Chinese viral. China is the origin of this virus but China controlled it within months without much effort. The western Scientists (researchers ) must study the impact on ethnic groups and other variables.

    • 1
      1

      Right on Niresh!
      Climate, environment and temperature matters to the spread and severity of the Covid 19 virus which is debilitated and mutates to mild at 35 degrees celusious and a lot of research has shown this, but the corrupt WHO and its experts, like the GMOA doctors who are also in the pay of drug companies that will make a killing on the Covid 19 vaccine are pretending otherwise.
      https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/opinion/coronavirus-vaccine-cost.html

      Also, AFRICA, the continent which has been the ground zero for US biological warfare and drug testing of viruses including Ebola and Aids, which also has mostly tropical climate has also few cases like South Asia.
      African countries in the same longtitude as South Asia have far fewer cases.
      It seems that the World Health Organization (WHO) and it fake experts which is in the pay of Big Pharmaceutical companies which will make a killing out of Covid 19 vaccine as the New York Times wrote is playing along with the drug companies, spreading the panic and closing down the economies and waiting for the vaccine to be released to make lots of money.
      Coronavirus is a US deep state attack against the Asian economies and China of course to de-globalize, except as usual blow back happened and the US is now in dire straits.
      IN tropical countries in Asia and Africa the virus mutates to mild or asymptomatic in 90 percent of the population but Sri Lanka’s GMOA is also paid off by the drug companies to prevent spread of herd immunity so that the Covid vaccine will earn the drug companies, WHO and associate GMOA doctors a lot of money later in the year.
      WHO should be shut down!

      • 0
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        D.S. : What you’ve put together here is deep stuff. What are you?

    • 2
      1

      “There is also another theory that is going viral is that it is an artificial virus in the laboratory (bio -weapon) produced by China targeting western countries.”
      Pathetic.
      Anything to divert attention from the incompetence of the US to handle the crisis.
      I have read that c*** in Tamil translation as well.
      The wish that Chinese economy will go up in smoke has gone up in smoke. Those who gloated about China’s predicament are at the receiving end.
      *
      There are strong signs that the virus was introduced into China from outside. Why do our ‘theorists’ ignore that possibility.
      It will not be long before the world learns the truth.

    • 0
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      There may be even greater speculation that (a) the virus was planted by Zionist fanatics to undermine China’s rise as THE countervailing world power against US, the essential patron of Israel altho the contagion has gone out of control thanks to CHina’s authoritarian system and the sheer ineptness of Washington; OR (b) the virus was planted by Uighur religious extremists (not the genuine activists) fed by Washington again miscalculating China’s competence and Trump’s incompetence; OR (c) by Sri Lankan illegals in Hubei working for the fanatical Ravan movement and hostile to Chinese presence in SL; OR (d) by international education entrepreneurs in SL unhappy about CHina’s ability to attract SL students (they may have deployed Ravana fanatics for the purpose); OR (e) LTTE suicide cadre migrants just wanting to earn cash from whomever; (f) F… … (others may add to this dangerous speculation).

      • 0
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        Such conspiracy theories get us nowhere.
        There is not even circumstantial evidence for any of the suggestions.
        Whether it was willfully planted or not, the likelihood of a Chinese origin of the virus is slimming by the day.

    • 1
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      Notes Eliathanby,

      Thanks. Yes, there is circumstantial evidence that higher temperatures reduce the spread of the virus.

      Have you considered the effect of sunlight, UV radiation that can destroy the virus, effect of Vitamin D, that is produced by sunlight striking the surfaces and skin, vitamin C and Zinc from fruits and vegetables, consumed in abundance in South Asia?

      Of course, spices, turmeric ginger and garlic are supposed to have protective effects by boosting the immune system. In addition, overall South Asians are not obese, and spend a lot of time outside, not in air conditioned offices with centralized systems, that effectively distribute the virus. Even the buses are quite open, getting a lot of fresh air.

  • 4
    1

    Naresh,I am not a qualified expert on this subject. But as a physician I feel it is way too early to say we are not as much affected as others. Upto now the time line indicates it takes some time from identifying the first patient , for the virus to establish and then start spreading in huge numbers. Even in China it took almos 2 to 3 months to get to the peak. The only advantage we had is the head start in taking precautions and set preventive measures, after witnessing the impact elsewhere. The preventive measures especially social distancing has been put in place very early and that too in a very strict manner, as in days of curfew. In India the peak is expected some where close to mid April . I feel the Americas and Europe were hit more because of the prevailing winter, comorbid influenza related illness, large numbers travel back and forth to other countries, lot of them are tourist destinations (Italy), a large elderly poulation and most live in senior care homes, or live alone with limited access to treatment during such crisis are few reasons for exacerbation. In such pandemics the tail may some time wane out (like in floods) due to acquired or herd immunity. So lets keep fingers crossed.We also have to keep in mind as long the illness exist in epidemic proportions in any part of the world, the risk exist for us to be the next victim.

    • 1
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      Chiv, wake up!
      Climate, environment and temperature matters to the spread and severity of the Covid 19 virus which is debilitated and mutates to mild at 35 degrees celusius and a lot of research has shown this, but the corrupt WHO and its experts, like the GMOA doctors who are also in the pay of drug companies that will make a killing on the Covid 19 vaccine are pretending otherwise.
      https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/opinion/coronavirus-vaccine-cost.html
      Also, AFRICA, the continent which has been ground zero for US biological warfare and drug testing of viruses and vaccines, including Ebola and Aids, where many countries also has mostly tropical climate has also few cases like South Asia.
      One strand of the virus targetted the Chinese genome so East Asia and Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia with big ethnic Chinese populations were also hit – like NYC and Washington state that have bit ethnic Chinese Amercian communities. There are 4 million ethnic Chinese Americans.

      • 0
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        DS
        Do we have data to prove that the incidence of the viral flu was statistically more significant among Chinese than among others in the same area?

  • 4
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    Although interesting, there is probably very little factual insight into the author’s deductions or measured opinions. The WHO has studied the behaviour of SARS in the lead up to 2002 when it claimed a near 10% fatality rate although total deaths were some 700 odd. SARS Cov-2 by contrast is a stealthy and insidious customer in its behaviour while replicating to devastate victims. Generally, all flu viruses thrive in colder climes; hence the spikes during each summer in temperate regions. The inconsistency in its behaviour between nations or regions is baffling alright, and casts an eerie shadow demonstrating its evil genius.

  • 1
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    My guess is Corona virus is an animal-virus. To grow inside the human body it needs animal specific amino acids to produce the protein court. So for vegetarians or those consume less animal proteins, the disease is not a problem. China and that region eat many different animals and so they are an easy target. Europeans their descendants are nit a disciplined bunch. For them it is either democracy or human rights to be selfish, self centered and go nuts. So they get it.
    Sri lankans can control it if they become united instead instead of preaching future problems can be prevented.
    See how prevalent the BIRD FLU and how fast it is mutating because they have to change the vaccine at a very rapid rate. Sri lanka is also consuming lot of poultry and there is a swine flu too.
    Amidst the high rate of tourists and foreign workers both Sri lanka and Maldive islands are Lucky. Bhutan like countries are not eaters even though religious conversion produces meat-eaters.

  • 2
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    Apart from the observations that Niresh have made it is also worth noting that despite many Western and Middle Eastern Capitals containing vast populations of South Asians, it appears that not many South Asians have been impacted.

    But statistics are hard to come by and if ever they do, it would be interesting to see how many casualties are of South Asian origin.

  • 2
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    may be we should not mistake the lack of testing for a lack of cases.

    I think I would much rather know the number of tests run by each country instead of so called positive cases

    • 1
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      Indeed. Not just the lack of testing but the capacity for detection and follow up of those who have come in contact with positive cases. Getting accurate test results from the crowded slums and housing of southern countries is never an easy venture. Don’t jump to conclusions should be the way to go. Take precautions meantime.

  • 1
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    Thambung Hodi (Russam) at lunch, Cognac after dinner.

  • 0
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    A learned friend in the medical world tells me that Dengue and Chickegunya effectively prepared us us for Coronavirus.

  • 1
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    Excellent piece, Niresh. I also had noted the slow growth in South Asia as a whole. However, I suspect that the reason could be (sadly) mainly the sheer lack of testing (like in SL – which is an incomparably smaller scale and exceptionally different in functioning health system). I fear that India and Bangladesh, in particular, may be just sitting on a monster that could show its head any moment. Let’s pray that I am wrong. But you are right to draw our attention. I would have thought that sheer under development and consequent lack of communications may also be a contributing factor for low transmission. But that may apply to the Subcontinental countryside. Subcontinental metro areas are so packed and malnourished and poorly educated and poorly tested that they should be extremely vulnerable. My sci-fi nightmare is a massive contagion in the Subcontinent and lakhs illegally fleeing across the Palk Straits to safe haven Lanka. Hope that you are right! Good work. It is at least psychologically reassuring as we swelter under curfew and tire of reporting the pandemic from home. Also, running out of alcohol! (for hand cleaning, that is; little drinking in this household).

  • 0
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    Don Stanley, I am already alert and awake, right now, sitting in a hospital trying to help who ever walks in. It is really stupid when reading comments about How bad colonialism, how bad is the West, how bad is this or that country. First of all try reading today article written by Prof. Ranil Perera. Dude we are talking about a pandemic and not a GPS guided drone or a laser guided missile. This is an invisible bug which is much mightier and will not stop until and unless its course is weaken. First of all people who blame others saying it is their karma, should look at our self, we too right now have confirmed cases and trust me we ain,t some saints. To be honest we are one of those immoral countries to exist and right now you can see how a murderer was set free in the midst of a human crisis.There is no country spared in an pandemic. Let me ask people who love to find excuses and scapegoat for our failures. If you think this is karma for others was Tsunami a karma too.You are the real fools who cannot even identify that your house is in fire and yet laughing at the misery of your neighbors. Any person with some medical knowledge can tell you a Pandemic is not a guided missile as you think. As I mentioned earlier , for you DS , if you take a leak or dump it is USA,s fault.You wake up buddy, because you never know , you may soon will be pleading them to get you some medicine or vaccine to keep you alive..

  • 0
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    One more thing DS , there are plenty of your kind who are nothing but conspiracy theorist , who are not capable of seeing beyond in any such human tragedy. There were pandemics before in history, but the last was before we were born. Hence people are clueless about the impact. We also had HIV, SARS, MERS, H1N1 and Ebola. The west including USA had significant impact from these dreaded disease. I am sure you would have said the same then , what you repeat here. What you present as an expert evidence is what you took out of context without no knowledge what so ever. A disease process, treatment and recovery are determined by hundreds of factors which also includes race, DNA pattern, culture, geography among numerous other things. You just took one out of it and went with your usual conspiracy regurgitation. your theory is is like Australians blaming others for their Melanoma or other skin malignancies , triggered by UV Rays. Have you noticed even the Chinese have stopped falsely alleging USA after Trump called it a Chinese/Kungfu virus. Yet people of you ilk continue as usual with your rubbish. It is a disservice to our own people to misinform or provide false information.

  • 2
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    Jd spot on. You just explained what knew but couldn’t properly articulate. I am a vegetarian and I live in New York which has the highest number of cases. Also USA officially passed China and Italy as the most amount of deaths. The American diet is the worst in the world. Full of processed food, animal flesh and everything is filled with suger and salt. Americans are also the fattest people on Earth. Also the American imune system is compromised due to their abuse of both legal and illigal drugs.

  • 0
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    As we speak , most of the medicines and vaccines are invented and manufactured in USA and other Western Countries. Not in China, Russia or Venezuela. According to half baked conspiracy theorist USA is useing bio weapons and at the same time providing the world with medicines and vaccines. Give a break. Lankans are good only at creating delusions and conspiracy theories like sterilization pills and tecniques.. Though I strongly disagree that the virus came out of Chinese labs and Russians have used poison to kill their own citizens living abroad. Why dont you guys talk about it , if you have nothing better to do. If USA and the west didnt come up with medicines for HIV , still there will be plenty walking around with it in Lanka. Now that the West is going into economic crisis, it will be only USA which could still do the Research and Development to come with medicines to save lives around the world.

  • 0
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    JD you are right. The virus had nothing to do with military labs or any of the other conspiracy theories. It spread due to the disgusting eating habits of the Chinese who prefer ‘warm’ meat i.e. freshly slaughtered animals. as you can see here.
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/23/appetite-for-warm-meat-drives-risk-of-disease-in-hong-kong-and-china

  • 0
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    what about the Spanish flu virus that killed over 5%( 12,000,000) of the then Indian population in 1918-1919?
    then would have been more of an authentic South-Asian lifestyle than now, one would assume?

    • 0
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      Here are the stats from estimated deaths and mortality rates due to influenza during the 1918–1920 influenza pandemic in India and Ceylon.
      Country :No. deaths (in 1,000s): Mortality rate (per 1,000), %
      India: 185 (6.1–43.9%)
      Ceylon (Sri Lanka): 51.0–91.6 (10.0–17.9%)

      Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2878222/

  • 0
    0

    No, the real reason is nobody – even a virus – can get anything done in South Asia without giving a bribe.

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