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A Ray of Light in The Dark Tunnel
|by Dr. Jaipal Singh|
There seems to be no respite for the global tragedy inflicted on humanity towards the beginning of the year 2020 which is now near ending with the advent of December month. After a gradual dip in the fresh cases noticed during July-September, Europe and Americas have now again started reporting considerably higher numbers compared to the previous peak of new Covid-19 infections. In fact, the resurgence of the pandemic in US shows daily double numbers of new corona patients compared to its earlier spell. While all this is happening worldwide, stunned by the novel coronavirus strain SARS-CoV-2, the world fraternity is still debating whether the virus is man-made or natural. Also probably for the first time in the history of pandemics, the very role of the World Health Organization (WHO) is being seen as suspicious and slipshod.
The only emerging broad consensus so far sans the aforesaid world health body has been that the virus originated in Wuhan city of Hubei province, and China could have saved a lot of corona carnage in other countries by timely alerting them as also implementing strict travel restrictions to and fro from the affected region in the initial days itself. Amid the mounting global pressure, the WHO’s Annual World Health Meeting was virtually held on 18 May 2020 to plan the future course of the global coronavirus response and the body consented to facilitate an independent review into the global response to the pandemic as soon as possible. However, for any substantive response or development in the matter, all that can be surmised is that they are perhaps still groping in the dark about moving in a definite direction in a given time-frame in their endeavour to unravel the truth.
Resurgence of Virus in a Global Fresh Wave
As we are aware, Wuhan city in Hubei province in China was the epicentre of the Covid-19 disease from February to April, 2020 and by all likelihood the coronavirus spread to various parts of the globe through the international travel that continued unabated for several weeks from the aforesaid hotspot. Though various reports came from Chinese sources in the beginning, the reliability of which could never be assured. It’s so because the unofficial/leaked reports showed very grave and panicky situation in Wuhan, the official reports reflected altogether different story. However, the focus of Corona carnage started shifting from China to Western Europe and US by the end of March 2020. In the beginning, European countries like Italy and Spain appeared most affected with Iran as an exception in the Islamic world with exceptionally large number of cases. However, it was soon declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) and during the next two months the entire globe was under crisis with the US and Western Europe as new hotspots.
Subsequently, a marked dip was noticed in the Europe during July-September 2020 with India, Brazil and Russia emerging as the countries with maximum daily numbers of new Covid-19 patients along with the US. Strangely, while nearly 218 big and small countries and territories across the world have been severely affected with the disease and significant number of human casualties, in China the virus has remained largely localized in Wuhan (Table 1) although China continues to be the most populous country with about thirteen cities with over ten million and another eleven cities between 9-10 million population. As of now, neither the world has any known cure nor a vaccine, so it remains only China’s secret how they have controlled and contained it largely in one location. Except for some unofficial cosmetic ideas allegedly floating from the Chinese land and boastful utterances of some Chinese leaders, the world has no clue about their exact status and any mantra or medicine to control the disease.
Table 1 (As on 28.11.2020)
As stated above, the numbers steadily declined in Western Europe and the US, and then, India emerged as the epicentres of the pandemic. For most of the July, August and part of September, Europe reported less than 20,000 cases a day, almost a third or fourth of what India alone was reporting daily. After September, a second wave of new Covid-19 cases is appearing in both Western and Eastern Europe, which is even more serious and deadly compared to the initial surge. Currently, these countries are reporting a far higher number of cases than during its previous peak. The US and India too are going through a resurgence, though the trend in the latter is not as marked as the former, except few Indian provinces, namely Maharashtra, Kerala, Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi. The position of five worst affected countries globally along with China on account of the Corona pandemic is indicated in Table 2. The gap between Total cases and recovered plus death cases would represent still active cases.
Table 2 (As on 28.11.2020)
The entire Europe and US have shown a dramatic rise Covid-19 disease cases during the last one month. Also the fresh wave of corona positive cases in the US and Europe is far worse than the previous one and there has been occasions when over two lakh infections were reported in US alone on a single day. Currently, the US is reporting daily increase from 1,50,000 to 2,00,000 cases. Be it Europe, US or India, there may be variety of reasons behind the current surge, possibly two broad reasons could be cited for the alleged escalation. The first reason appears to be lowering of guards by the people across the globe, and more particularly in Europe and US, fed up with nearly eight months ongoing restrictions and curtailment of normal life activities; the other reason could be drop in temperature across the globe with the onset of winter. The cold and dry weather might help the virus to survive for a longer period and remain potent/active.
In India, where the number of Covid-19 cases have crossed the mark of 93 lakhs, only next to the US in total tally, with peak achieved around mid-September with nearly 98 thousand cases on a single day, occurrence of fresh cases has currently shown a declining trend with around 45-50 thousand fresh cases reported every day now. It is difficult to say whether India would continue with the declining trend because while the cases in majority of the states including the most populous Uttar Pradesh are indeed on decline but the states like Delhi, Kerala and West Bengal are showing signs of fresh wave of enhanced infections, with some others such as Maharashtra, Haryana and Rajasthan still reporting it with certain consistency. It cannot be predicted with certainty if India would also go Europe way but currently concluded festive season and onset of winter has certainly aggravated the situation.
China is Consistent and Stable
As of November 28, 2020, the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that originated in Wuhan China, had infected approximately 86,501 people and killed 4,634 countrywide. Some other sources have reported a slightly different figure but that is the irony of communist regime that seldom reports true picture to the outside world. If we compare world’s three biggest nations population wise in terms of the total number of cases reported and deaths occurred due to the said disease from 29 March to 28 November (8 months), the position reveals interesting trend (Table 3):
As can be seen from the above, China has reported only about 5,062 fresh cases with nearly 1334 deaths during the last 8 months that suggest an average daily increase of about 21 new cases during this period. The unusually high number of deaths vis-à-vis fresh cases is on account of significant carry over mortality data released which were allegedly reported late in the system. However, considering the magnitude of daily data of fresh cases and deaths during the same period in respect of the US and India, it would be unfair to derive any contrast and conclusion. However, a quick update of the Chinese position since the crisis started is indicated in the following paragraph.
Reportedly in late December 2019, the Chinese health authorities detected several pneumonia-like cases in Wuhan of the unknown diagnosis and the majority of the patients were allegedly linked to the Huanan Seafood Market there. As the Chinese New Year was approaching, millions of Chinese migrant workers traveled back to their hometowns for the celebration and before the travel ban on January 23, around five billion people had already left Wuhan. By the end of January, the number of infections had surged to over ten thousand that stayed afloating during the strict lockdown. With situation stated to be under control, China had lifted their nearly ten-week lockdown on Wuhan on April 8, 2020 with civil life increasingly back to normal in the country. The maximum numbers as reported in the aforesaid table had reached by the end of March and towards mid-April 2020, the Chinese health authorities also revised their death tolls adding nearly thirty percent fatalities. Ever since the number of fresh cases have significantly gone down and deaths almost completely avoided. During the same period, both US and India have been overwhelmed with new cases and fatalities.
Status of WHO Sponsored Investigation
Although, China has been aggressively claiming its innocence but the global community largely holds it responsible for the pandemic that has ruined the global economy, disrupted the normal life and made millions of people sick and dead world over. There are many questions about Covid-19 pandemic that are still baffling the international community; only China has answers but it has deflected all such questions or queries with constantly shifting stands and ambiguous statements. The US administration and many NATO allies even see it as a sinister plot against them under an elaborated cover plan by unleashing the virus on itself in a controlled environment to give credence to its theory of innocence as well as playing the victim card. The countries like India, Brazil and Russia outside the NATO Block too have equally badly suffered; hence under the mounting global pressure, the WHO was constrained to give consent to facilitate an independent review into the global response to the coronavirus pandemic in soonest possible timeframe in their Annual World Health Meeting virtually held on 18 May 2020.
The WHO, more particularly its Director-General TA Ghebreyesus, have been facing constant flak from several nations with allegations of working in league with China while underplaying the contagion's threat to mankind. In spite of the aforesaid resolve in May 2020, there has been hardly any progress so far in the WHO sponsored investigation. Strangely enough, the WHO team currently investigating the origin of the novel coronavirus had concluded its initial itinerary without even visiting to Wuhan, which is globally considered as the place of origin and first epicentre of the contagion. While the world community leader US is occupied in its domestic developments following the Presidential elections, the initial spark and enthusiasm appears to have lost its momentum with no other country being willing or courageous enough to take on the Chinese dragon. Although the WHO investigation outcome is keenly awaited globally both by the scientists and governments but there seems to be no headway so far in the matter.
In fact, apart from the origin and source of the virus which has been hotly debated and denied by Beijing, there are several other issues which are constantly dodging the world community of nations. Some of these issues include the hiding of information about the epidemic in Wuhan for a considerably long time, allowing hundreds of thousand people from Wuhan for outward travel worldwide, punishing few early whistle-blowers domestically, destroying early vial samples of the virus without testing, refusing scientists and experts from international community to visit Wuhan and viral lab there, stalling discussion on coronavirus in the UN Security Council, and so on. It is indeed very surprising and belittling all logic and rationale that even the most stringent measures and prolonged lockdown in India could not stop the spread of virus which China has so effective contained just in one province, or so to say largely in one city, if the Chinese official data are to be relied upon.
Far more interesting part of the proposed WHO investigation is finding out the source and origin of the virus. The world has seen how certain part of China had been hotbed of coronavirus victims and activity centre for several weeks in the beginning of the year and some reports even trace its history in certain pneumonia-like cases reported in Wuhan as back as November, or even September, 2019. While China has constantly denied its indigenous origin and even blamed US military and/or some African people for spread of the virus, the world largely agrees and holds China as the source and origin of the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus. The WHO team is already finding it a daunting taskto make any headway more so due to the sensitive political issues involved. The initial work was done even without visiting Wuhan on a rather apologetic note and explanation in defence of excluding Wuhan. Scientists feel that the tracing of the path of virus is crucial for preventing future viral spill overs and many believe that it originated in bats but clues how it jumped to humans appear to be missing. Reportedly, the early cases were linked to the wholesale seafood market (meat market) in Wuhan but the traces of the coronaviruses were not found in the carcasses during early investigations. Also, despite many requests and suggestions from the international community, China had not allowed scientists and experts from other countries to visit the Wuhan Virus Lab that they have allowed now to some reporters after several months of the fateful occurrences.
According to 5th November report of the WHO mission’s terms of reference, the early investigations on the frozen animal carcasses at the market did not reveal any evidence of SARS-CoV-2 but the environmental samples from the Wuhan drains and sewage tested positive for the virus. The roadmap of the WHO investigation appears to suggest that the search would begin in Wuhan, where the Covid-19 patients were first identified and then they would expand its scope in other parts of China and beyond in the world. One could get inkling of what is ultimately likely to happen from the statement of Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Columbia University in New York that the finding of an animal now with a SARS-CoV-2 infection is like looking for a needle in the world’s largest haystack. They may never find a ‘smoking bat’ or such other animal which would be the key for investigators to establish a collaborative relationship with scientists and government officials in China. Thus the official investigation of the source and origin of virus might take years with missing crucial links and volatile political situation among the key adversaries like China and US and, in fact, the accurate position and responsibility could perhaps never be fixed.
Conspiracy Theory and Sinister Design
Undoubtedly, current pandemic on account of the novel coronavirus is the biggest tragedy, rather unprecedented disaster if we say so, in the modern civilizational history of the mankind with so ambiguous and perplexed beginning and no end in the foresight anytime soon. This has not only severely affected human health in all categories but also disrupted the world economy, employment and normal life. The only parallel that could be derived in the context of the human health is the Spanish Flu (influenza pandemic) of 1918-20 that affected nearly one-third of the global population but that too was not so widespread concurrently as also human healthcare was not as developed at the time. During the current pandemic, the entire world comprising of some 218 countries and territories is simultaneously suffering with the Covid-19 disease sans China where it originated but now it certainly looks more like a controlled experiment rather than a pandemic or epidemic.
Since the first few victims with pneumonic symptoms were reported from Wuhan in Hubei province of China towards the fag end of 2019 with the virus outbreak in next few weeks, many reports have appeared in the media pointing towards a conspiracy theory with some of the sources quoted from the Chinese mainland itself. On their part, the Chinese leadership has been aggressively denying its origin or source in the Chinese land and has passed the buck on US Military and African people responsible for this in the past. While repeatedly denying foreign scientists and reporters any access into the Wuhan Institute of Virology laboratory and suspect meat market in Wuhan for the months together, recently the Chinese authorities had allowed some reporters into the Institute in a belated attempt to disprove conspiracy theory that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19, originated in the lab. However, such an attempt months after the pandemic is likely to do little in allaying apprehensions about the suspect Chinese role in a deliberate act of bio-terrorism.
If the world community at large, and some scientists and experts suspect Chinese role behind the pandemic, it is not without some credible reasons. A book "Unrestricted Warfare" authored by two senior officers of PLA is so often quoted, which underlines the tactics of China using money power to prepare loyalists worldwide to build favourable opinion, waging an economic war, targeting communication networks, using terrorism, and so on against adversaries to achieve their intended objectives in compensating for their military inferiority particularly in the context of the United States. Recently, Dr. Mark Kortepeter, a US physician and biodefense expert, too has analysed in a scholarly paper if the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for the Covid-19 disease would make a good bio-weapon. According to him, the making of biological weapons needs either fermentation technology or cell culture, and although a coronavirus causing the aforesaid disease is a bit hard to grow than bacteria like anthrax spores but it is indeed possible to be done.
He further suggests that as such agents are highly contagious, they could function like a double-edged sword. Once released, it would spread efficiently in the opposing army or nation but the pathogen can also strike back the forces or country responsible for its release unless the countermeasures are already in place there. Overall, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has some “desirable” properties as a bio-weapon, but probably not enough to make it a good choice for military purposes as could be observed from the current vulnerability of the nations to deal with it. Another important point demonstrated by this pandemic is that once the genie is let loose out of the bottle, it is almost impossible to put it back in with controls lost and results unpredictable. Though it is difficult to ascribe complete reliability but as a matter of fact a group of Chinese virologists possibly linked to Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist in the administration of US President Donald Trump, have also released a paper claiming the new coronavirus is an unrestricted bio-weapon.
There is no reliable means to independently verify either the Chinese version on the virus or the media claims including some scientists and experts suggesting it as a bio-weapon but the constant secrecy and opaqueness maintained by the Chinese government and many circumstantial evidences do suggest some conspiracy behind the whole affair. The existence of an institute of virology in Wuhan, the Chinese food habits and the fact that except for the initial outbreak of virus and consequent damage, almost entire China mainland has largely remained immune despite its vast length and width and the nation being most populous in the world, are some factors which suggest that the Chinese government is not as honest and clear as they are trying to show to the rest of the world in the matter. Some of such reasons are briefly indicated as follows:
The aforesaid lacunae and lapses when read with simultneous belligerent and hegemonistic behaviour with the neighbours in the geographical proximity and opportunist approach with the world at large to turn the pandemic into an opportunity speaks a volume about the suspect motives and sinister design of the Asian giant. The recent move to allow reporters to visit the Wuhan Virology Institute nearly after one year of the virus outbreak reminds the Indian air strikes on the Jais-e-Muhammad terrorists at Balakot in Pakistan. The ever hostile neighbour and their sympathizers and media remained hell bent to prove that the air strikes were a hoax and failure while the Indian Air Force and impartial foreign journalists confirmed and even reported the estimated losses at the site. Despite being in constant denial mode, the Pakistan establishment and army allowed foreign delegates only a conducted tour of the vicinity of the attack site several weeks after the event. What a shrewed practice with no shame attached of "cleanse, sanitize and display" innocence by some nations!
Development and Distribution of Vaccines
The COVID-19 pandemic has not shown any signs of termination or slowing down world over. In certain parts of the world, particularly Western Europe, where it had slowed down few months back thy second wave of new coronavirus cases has arrived which is proving far more grave and deadlier with infection rate nearly double compared to previous one. The WHO and its partners as well as the respective governments are working in collaboration and individually as well to track the pandemic, advise on critical interventions, in-house patient care system, and distribute vital medical supplies to people in need. From the past experience in dealing with many contagious diseases, we all know how the vaccines are useful to save millions of lives every year worldwide. The vaccines attune and prepare human body’s natural immunity and defences to fight against the harmful viruses and bacteria in a targeted manner.
In view of the above, currently respective governments and organizations are working at an unprecedented pace to develop and produce an effective vaccine that could provide natural immunity and prevention against the Covid-19 disease. In fact, currently several dozen SARS-CoV-2 vaccine agents are under development with many of them under the human trial stage. The WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the Gates Foundation (GF) have committed money and organizational resources in collaboration with scientists, business, and global health organizations for the cause of vaccines needed to prevent continuing Covid-19 infection. The COVAX led by WHO, GAVI and CEPI is likely to facilitate the equitable access and distribution of vaccines to protect people in all countries as and when a safe and effective one is established.
As of now, there are over three hundred vaccine candidates in development worldwide, and in November 2020 nearly 56 vaccine candidates were in clinical research; out of them, 41 in Phase I–II trials and 15 in Phase II–III trials. Despite many tall claims in the media, none of the vaccine candidate has fully completed its final (Phase III) trial although some of them have even started advanced planning for the targeted production and distribution. Currently, few rather more advanced names viz., Moderna, Pfizer Inc, Oxford AstraZeneca and Sputnik (Russian) are in circulation with some published positive results following their Phase III trials. Due to its in-built capacity and potential in production and distribution of vaccines, some of them are also working in collaboration with Indian firms. The current position of these vaccines along with an indigenous vaccine in India is briefly indicated as follows:
Moderna Inc. is a US based Biotech company which is in phase III trial of the Covid-19 vaccine that claims efficacy rate at 94.5% and currently stated to be one of the most favoured vaccines in contention. Reportedly, they have even ramped up production plans and strategic partnerships with countries across the world as well for its sale and distribution. According to reports, the company is also in touch with the COVAX that might help its expansion outside of the US and Europe to supply it to many developing countries across the world as well.
Pfizer Inc. is another reputed American multinational pharmaceutical corporation with its headquarters at New York City. The company is in the business of developing and producing medicines and vaccines for a wide range of medical disciplines, and their vaccine too is stated to be in advanced stage of trial and manufacturing. Apparently, they have also entered into an arrangement with the United Airlines for operating charter flights to position vaccine doses for quick distribution once approved by regulators. The efficacy of this vaccine is claimed to be around 95%.
The University of Oxford in UK too has announced its success to have developed an effective vaccine against Covid-19 disease in collaboration with AstraZeneca. However, there seems to be some controversy about its efficacy and effectiveness. Reportedly, the vaccine was found 90% effective when a half-dose was tested on volunteers but the use of full-dose showed only about 62% efficacy. However, unlike Moderna and Pfizer that need high-tech supercooling facility, this vaccine can be stored on normal refrigerator temperature and its lower cost makes it ideal for mass vaccination in developing countries. The Pune based Serum Institute in India is stated to have a tie up with the Oxford-AstraZeneca and, if finally found suitable, India might prefer this vaccine for its masses.
Apart from the aforesaid leading development, Russia too has announced its vaccine named after its Sputnik satellite series. According to announcement made by Russia, their vaccine Sputnik V had shown efficacy rate of 90 percent and higher during the tests and in clinical trials it is proved 95% effective. Currently, the third and final phase of trials of the vaccine is under way. The developers of Russia's coronavirus vaccine have recently made public that India-based drug maker Hetero, a leading generic pharmaceutical company, will produce over 100 million doses per year, which is expected to begin in early 2021 and the cost of it is likely to remain much cheaper compared to few other registered Covid-19 vaccines in West.
India too has geared up for the indigenous production of Covid-19 vaccine named Covaxin with Bharat Biotech working in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). The phase III human clinical trials of the vaccine have reportedly started in the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). According to available forecasts, if everything goes on well as planned, the vaccine is likely to be available for use by February-March 2021.
Although optimistic reports are coming from the aforesaid sources, the most vaccine manufacturers, viz., Moderna, Pfizer, Oxford-Astrazeneca, and Sputnik V etc. are likely to take few more months for completion of trial, regulatory approval, and production and distribution of the vaccine. At least two of them i.e. Oxford-Astrazeneca and Sputnik V are also engaged in serious talks with Indian firms to produce and market their vaccines in India. Their tie up and collaboration with the COVAX is likely to facilitate the equitable access and distribution of vaccines to other developing countries too.
Nearly after one year of the first Covid-19 patient identified in Wuhan, China, the world community is still not aware with certainty how the coronavirus pandemic started, what is the origin and source, and whether the human beings across the world, sans China, would ever be able to live without fear and risk of life in the near future. Though many sceptics might disagree, but the way this virus has spread across the world without trail, or there has been deliberate tinkering with the trail, it indeed appears that there may be a sinister design in unleashing it on humanity with certain covert objectives in mind by some cynical and ambitious elements or nationality. Also the way the particular communist regime in Asia has conducted itself, particularly with its neighbours, during the pandemic, it is not a good omen for the world peace and stability. This is also visible from the heightened tension due to ongoing military show-off between India and China, and consequent impact on their trade and commerce
The divine and demoniac entities have always been present and lived concurrently in this world with a certain balance maintained between their merits and demerits in conduct and action. But whenever the latter has dominated the world, it has created a serious imbalance leading to a tragedy and disaster for the entire mankind but the history is also a witness that the tyranny of such powers is invariably ended by the united divine forces led by the righteous people. The Mahabharata war in the ancient age and World War I & II during the last century are classical examples restoring the faith of humanity in right ethics and behaviour. Currently, when it looked like as if the world has suddenly turned into a dark tunnel full of vermin with desperate people groping in the dark and suffering everywhere, the news of vaccines from various parts are coming as the ray of light and hope for the entire mankind. While the world has struggled with the pandemic for nearly eight months owing to the deadly coronavirus, the vaccines might emerge as the saviour of the mankind in the near future.
Statistical Datasource: Wikipedia and Wordometer.info
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