With the recent COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) outbreak, the entire world has come to a standstill. Countries have imposed a complete lockdown on the recommendations of WHO and closed borders within the country and also across. Now that we are in a global pandemic, we must need to explore the possibilities of finding a cure. And to do that, we must first understand the virus, it’s contagious nature, and the repercussions that entails it.
What is COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2? We need to be aware that there are many preexisting coronaviruses. You can find the exhaustive list here. Only a handful of them fall under the broad category of human coronavirus. In general, coronaviruses are enveloped RNA viruses belonging to the family of Coronaviridae. In 2002, when severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) emerged in China, it led to its deep study and concern for public health. In the past, the first coronavirus infection was isolated from chicken embryos in 1937 and later in 1965, the first human coronavirus was isolated. They have been categorized under three groups. The centre for disease control and prevention has listed different types of human coronavirus. Only, the first two groups consisting of HCoV-229E, HCoV-NL63 and HCoVOC43, HCoV-HKU1 are infectious to humans. So far there are no available vaccines for any coronavirus.
How contagious COVID-19 is? To understand this, we need to perform aggressive testing and collect samples. WHO has recommended countries to do surveillance for severe acute respiratory infections (SARI) and influenza like infections (ILI). The testing requirements have been detailed here. The worrying part is that we don’t really know yet what we are testing, and the data collected from these samples will be used to study COVID-19. This is debatable. In recent studies, the genetic structure of SARS-CoV-2 and SARC-CoV have been found 75% identical. The length of the SARS-CoV genome is over 30 kb whereas the genome size of the SARS-CoV-2 varies from 29.8 kb to 29.9 kb. The spike protein (S) is the main antigen to detect all coronaviruses. The common molecular testing technique known as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was used initially. This type of testing checks for the presence of a viral genetic material. The other type that is gaining popularity recently is antibody testing (serology based) where you collect blood samples and check for the antibodies presence. If you are tested positive in this type of testing, it means that you have developed some antibodies to fight the disease (some form of immunity) which, in turn, implies that you have been exposed to the virus earlier. Also, both of these testing techniques are not completely reliable. The false-positive rate is high meaning that even if a person doesn’t have this disease, the outcome of the result will be positive. A report summarized here also questions as to whether a person should go for this test. With this, the worldwide pandemic numbers becomes questionable as to what it suggests. The numbers might suggest anything. It could be SARS-CoV, SARS-CoV-2, or influenza. At best, you can only guess what test is going on to establish COVID-19 dataset. One of the study shows the error in reporting death rates too.
To understand the repercussions of this pandemic, we need to understand how each one of us perceives it. The symptoms of SARS-CoV-2 are of generic flu. WHO had added loss of smell or taste as among more serious symptoms. But, if you look at the listed symptoms, you’ll find that most people will have at least four to five symptoms. The overall estimated mortality rate for SARS-CoV-2 is at 2% (updated to 3-4% recently by WHO). It is way below than other deadly diseases. But it is higher than a seasonal flu which is at 0.1% (in the US). Now, all this data depends on the area (size of the location). If you choose a bigger country, province, or a city, these mortality rates will differ. And we haven’t really arrived at the point where we can give the true mortality rate. So the figures will keep on fluctuating.
The measures taken by different governments across the world have been harsh and disastrous for the economy. WHO mandated a complete lockdown. But, there’s no way we can blame the virus to be affecting the economy. It’s, in fact, the lockdown. There are countries such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Belarus, and Sweden that have not imposed a complete lockdown and carried on with aggressive testing and treatment with few restrictive measures. These countries have been criticized heavily in the mainstream media and by some medical professionals for treating their citizens as “Herd”.
A picture that speaks louder than the words. Believe it or not, the countries that have imposed lockdown and the countries that haven’t, they are all fighting for the same spot. There’s only one country, New Zealand, that has imposed the lockdown and has been successful so far. Again, New Zealand is a remote island country that has proximity to only Australia and Fiji. Also, New Zealand is a well maintained country. Their approach was to impose a lockdown with aggressive testing. No other big and populous country can achieve that. And you can not “flatten the curve” with only lockdown. The economy needs to be there to fight the disease too. Otherwise, countries will be forced to go to the doors of the World Bank. WHO has time and again issued warning that exiting lockdown could be disastrous. This is debatable as no one knows if the cases would be the same, more, or less afterwards. This is more believable that the increase in the cases will be there if countries switch to aggressive testing as already a large part of the population is infected by some coronavirus.
If you look at the early genomic study in China, you’ll find different mutations of some coronavirus were present. Then, came a report that the virus is mutating further and is becoming more contagious. Later, we saw some report that the virus is not mutating to be contagious. These studies were neither peer-reviewed nor confirmed but still made the headlines in the mainstream media. Social media is also responsible for creating unnecessary headlines. With everything happening around us, we arrive at a point where the viral disease has been demeaned to be a scare only and we would be only able to end it socially or mentally.