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Covid-19 Pandemic: No Perceptible Respite in Horizon
|by Dr. Jaipal Singh|
Although it is difficult to imbibe any Chinese version on its face value yet going by the Chinese government’s narrative the Covid-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) caused by SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) was first observed in Wuhan city of Hubei province on 27 December 2019. The outbreak initially manifested as a cluster of mysterious pneumonia like symptoms locally in Wuhan that soon engulfed the entire globe sans the very country of its origin which gleefully celebrated a victory over the dreadful virus merely after few weeks of inception allegedly with the help of Chinese traditional medicines at a time when any vaccines, drugs or even other control measures were far from imagination what to talk of developing and implementing it. On 26 December 2021, the dreadful virus and the terrible disease caused by it has completed two years of a gloomy and disastrous spell with no signs or any hope of respite in the very near future.
Needless to mention, the disease has taken an enormous toll of human lives, millions of people have lost their employment globally and economy of the developed nations of West and developing giants like India are in shambles. If at all any country is largely free from the maladies caused by coronavirus, it is the Peoples Republic of China, the country of its origin notwithstanding its constant denial suggesting its evolution elsewhere. As of now, 224 countries and territories have been affected by the pandemic and most of them are facing the second or third wave of the disease. As on date, the world has a cumulative total of corona positive cases of 279.85 million, 5.41 million deaths and 24.36 million active cases. Only two countries, namely China and North Korea, are reported almost free from it with life and business as usual, while the worst affected countries are the US, India, Brazil, Russia and some Western European countries like UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy.
Global Pandemic Position in Nutshell
As already mentioned, almost entire world is reeling under the Covid-19 pandemic in varying degrees sans China and North Korea for the last two years and none has any inkling about when this traumatic phase would wound up. China is the country of origin of disease where SARS-CoV-2 was first reported causing epidemic in Wuhan during January/February 2019 but with only about one hundred thousand cases nationwide currently it is ranked as 114th country in terms of the total coronavirus positive cases with only about one thousand active cases. For the sake of brevity, only ten most affected countries are proposed to be briefly dealt with here. Besides, four South American countries with large human casualties namely Peru (202,424), Mexico (298,508), Colombia (129,686) and Argentina (117,008), ill equipped to deal with the pandemic, have recorded more than a hundred thousand deaths each with higher death rate of 8.91, 7.57, 2.53 and 2.15 percent, respectively. Among Islamic countries, Indonesia and Iran too have recorded over one hundred thousand death toll each so far with reasonably high death rate 3.38 and 2.12 percent, respectively.
Table-1 Covid-19 Position
Among the top ten worst affected countries are the US, India, Brazil, UK, Russia, Turkey, France, Germany, Spain and Italy in terms of the total cases in the same order. Together these countries account for total coronavirus positive cases of 169,017,633 and total deaths of 2,927,358, which represent about 60.41% of the total cases and 54.08% total deaths, respectively. In the current phase, the US and Western Europe with some other stand alone countries like South Africa, Vietnam, Canada and Argentina in respective continents appear to be hot spots for new infections. The position of new patients and total active cases in the countries like US, UK, France, Russia and Spain indeed seems to be staggering and alarming. Among these US alone has now more than 8 hundred thousand Covid-19 deaths and over 10 million active cases on date. Hence even without gathering any inflated or under-pitched purported media reports, one can surmise what kind of health crisis currently the US has undergone with.
Table-2 Covid-19 Active Cases and Deaths Per Million
Among the worst affected, a staggering population of over 15 percent has already been reported infected so far in the countries like US (15.73%), UK (16,87%) and Brazil (15.34%) while France (13.28%), Spain (11.96%), Turkey (10.82%), Italy (8.95%), Germany (8.19%) and Russia (6.9%) are in the range of 5 to 15 percent. As against this, despite a massive figure of over 30 million infections, only about 2.47 percent the Indian population has been affected so far. Although the Western liberal/leftist media like the New York Times and Washington Post have spared no stone unturned to exaggerate these figures in recent past, the fact is that only tested and formally diagnosed cases are captured in any database and this applies to all nationalities; hence it is unfair to single out any particular country with speculations and absurd estimation. As for the number of total cases and total deaths per million, as can be observed from the relevant Table-2, the count is fairly high in case of US, UK, France, Spain, Turkey and Brazil.
As for the death percentage, in the initial phase of SARS-CoV-2 invasion in April 2020, it was very high in case of some European countries such as UK (12.59), Spain (10.22), Italy (12.78) and France (10.66) as well as Iran (6.24), relatively lower in US (3.86) and India (3.39) yet still a cause of concern. However, the death percentage has come down to between 1-2% range in the majority of countries including the US and India with the passage of time with exception of Russia (2.91), Brazil (2.78) and Italy (2.50) which are still recording relatively more deaths. Some South American countries like Peru and Mexico are other exceptions with rather very high death percentage of 8.91% and 7.57%, respectively. Although, any mention of China is hardly of any credible substance due to virus largely remaining localized in Wuhan and, in retrospective, that too looks more like a controlled experiment, yet for the record sake only about 0.01 percent population has been affected in China with just 3 cases per million people on average so far. Needless to mention, the communist country has exploited Covid-19 disease as opportunity initially by trying to capture larger share in multinational and national companies abroad through investment directly or by proxy, selling corona kits and allied accessories to other countries and aggressively by nibbling upon the land and maritime territories of neighbouring countries.
For the first time during the current pandemic, the WHO has been constantly found under controversy and criticism across the globe with US openly making allegation against the world health body about bias in favour of China. In initial phase, Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was personally blamed for underplaying the virus threat in sync with the communist country. After prolonged delay and mounting pressure from the international community, a team was constituted under the aegis of WHO to investigate the origin of SARS-CoV-2. After almost nine months study, the report released on 30 March 2021 failed to produce any credible information or conclusion about the origin of virus. Instead, it winnowed several alternative hypotheses and need for more investigation in other geographical areas too – a theory constantly already propagated by the Chinese government. Even the WHO’s Emergency Use Listing (EUL) of vaccines has not been free from controversies. For instance, the WHO approval based on the said requirements of quality, safety and efficacy of vaccines was accorded to Chinese vaccine Sinopharm in record ten days while the Indian Bharat Biotech produced Covaxin had to wait for approval for several months attending their umpteen piecemeal observations.
A lot has also been written and spoken by the international community about the mysterious role and suspect conduct of the Chinese authorities in the worldwide spread of virus. As separately analyzed and discussed by this author too in earlier pieces, the nature and behavior of this coronavirus suggest a strong probability of its being manmade with an accidental or deliberate release. There have been discreet evidences, excerpts and citations from the books like "The Eyes of Darkness" and "Unrestricted Warfare" as also a recent allegedly leaked report that the Chinese military experts and scientists have been working for years on the scope of a biological war; such reports and evidences have never been convincingly refuted by authorized Chinese officials so far. With the global trend as of now, it appears the world is likely to remain marred with existing physical and emotional trauma on account of Covid-19 pandemic and painful losses of human lives, economy and employment for an indefinite period.
Corona Rampage in United States
When the Covid-19 pandemic started in 2020, the American leadership under the then President Donald Trump openly blamed China for their leadership’s suspect and irresponsible role leading to worldwide spread of the SARS-CoV-2. Despite their resentment, protests and counterattack, the US President stuck to his guns and even started addressing the pathogen a “China virus” or “Wuhan virus” in public addresses. The already strained relations between the two countries dipped to a new low in July 2020 when the US asked China to close its consulate office in Houston, Texas in a surprise move. However, the aforesaid action was neither abrupt nor extemporaneous as US had already taken a slew of measures since its trade war started with the Asian communist giant in 2018. Needless to mention that the US has been worst victim and sufferer of Covid-19 pandemic both in terms of human casualties and economic disaster till date. Many people do not subscribe to the then President Donald Trump’s policies and wisdom nationally and internationally but the fact is that his regime put China under tremendous political and military pressure compelling the CCP and Chinese government to withdraw or slow down their provocative and offensive measures against neighbours in the South China Sea region.
With the change of leadership and political control passing under the hands of the Democratic Party in January 2021, subsequent measures and action taken by the incumbent US President Joe Biden suggest that he is not inclined to follow an aggressive policy towards China. After joining office, President Biden banned any references to Covid-19 by geographical locations of its origin. According to him, such references by the political leaders only played a role in escalating xenophobic sentiments in the US and elsewhere. Though he did not quote any names but it was an obvious reference to ex-President Trump and his supporters who addressed the pathogen by name of its origin at public platforms and constantly blamed the communist country of the spread of the pandemic. Even about US Navy presence in South China Sea, President Biden has clarified that the US presence in the region is not for a conflict with China but just to avoid it. President Biden might have his own reasons and compulsions but his reconciliatory approach despite their country’s iconic losses of the human life and economy owing to pandemic has relieved much desired pressure on the Asian giant that had earlier slowed down its aggressive conduct with neighbours. Surprising, they have now no qualms about identifying various variants of the same virus from the geographical locations.
Currently, it appears that the entire US, Canada, Australia and the Western Europe is reeling under severe third coronavirus wave, Asia and Africa are relatively at ease sans Vietnam and South Africa; South America and Eastern Europe too appear largely in control, while China is actually merry making since the initial spurt in Wuhan was controlled. During the current pandemic, the US is the single largest country to have suffered most on account of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, be it loss of human life, or their economy and employment. As on date, the US has 52,941,413 total corona positive cases with 837,628 deaths. For a country which attaches a great significance for avoidance of the loss of human life even during war, these figures are colossal, shocking and terrifying. With estimated 331.8 million population, the US accounts for nearly one-fourth of India’s population and even during the last 24 hours it had 248,427 new cases of Covid-19 patients. Even the least affected state like New Hampshire has a greater Covid-19 tally than China’s total count since inception of the virus.
Among the few more popular vaccine candidates currently in maximum use globally, two mRNA based vaccines namely Pfizer and Moderna belong to the US. According to latest data, at least 76 percent eligible US population has been given at least first dose of vaccine with more affected states like California and New York have even higher coverage up to 82 and 83 percent, respectively. The US has one of the best health care systems in the world yet shortages, chaos, confusion and mismanagement in handling Covid-19 patients and dead bodies during the early months of the virus invasion as also during the second coronavirus wave was quite pronounced. By September 2021, the number of deaths of Americans due to Covid-19 disease had surpassed 675,000, the estimated death count of US citizens on account of Spanish Flu in 2018. The point to note here is that this comparison may be okay for statistics sake but it’s not fair in view of remarkable advances in Medical Science of human healthcare during last one hundred years. However, the good part in US is that the media and opposition parties, Republicans at federal level and state specific parties, remain largely supportive and sympathetic when it comes to the national cause. The same US media resorts to irresponsible and atrocious reporting when it relates to countries like India, Brazil, and so on.
The author is consciously avoiding embarrassing cases involving personal experiences of individual US patients in the recent past, but there are reports on US hospitals in the states like New Mexico, Minnesota and Florida running out of beds for the patients and shortages of the attending staff. Some of the main reasons of the phenomenal rise in number of Covid patients in US appear to be the CDC guideline of May 2021 dispensing with the need of wearing masks, lifting other mandatory restrictions in favour of economy and general negligence of the citizens. People need to learn that the vaccination may provide protection from grave illness but not from the virus infection; hence masks and other personal precautions must continue till the pandemic is over. According to available data, hospitals throughout the country had been overwhelmed with record numbers of Covid-19 patients by the end of November, nursing students had to fill in on emergency basis and many field hospitals were set up to manage the overflow of patients. Notwithstanding these measures, ICUs in majority cases have reportedly reached to capacity, routine surgeries being postponed in many cases, beds, nurses and labours are in significant shortage, and in many cases the alternative medical facilities sought in other states, at times hundreds of miles away. This nemesis is not unexpected or surprising in view of about 11.2 million active cases of Covid-19 patients in US as on date.
Ongoing Covid misinformation by China
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and government not only kept the entire world in dark but also downplayed the risk and dangers of the SARS-CoV-2 Virus to nearly eleven million Wuhan residents in the initial months despite the reports of viral infection cases as early as September/October 2019. The caution/warnings of the doctors and specialists were suppressed and some of them were even arrested and penalized. Apparently, the officials citing the preparations for the annual congresses in January kept downplaying infections. As late as March 2020, the director of Wuhan Central Hospital’s emergency department publicly admitted about the Wuhan’s Health Commission directive that medical workers were not to disclose anything about the virus, or the disease it caused, to avoid sparking a panic. The Chinese officials had chosen to retain secrecy or pass the blame elsewhere at every critical moment amidst the growing crisis to avoid political embarrassment and public alarm domestically.
In fact, many compelling reasons were observed during the initial months itself why many experts and people believed that the virus was not natural and was purportedly leaked in Wuhan with sinister design and undisclosed objectives. Some more relevant reasons why such inferences were derived by many experts and scientists in the international community that still hold good are cited as follows:
The BBC had even published a report in retrospective on 29 December 2020 into how Chinese state media and government’s online censors had suppressed negative information and propagandized during the crucial period. In early stages when it was pretty clear to the doctors and health workers in Wuhan, the Chinese National Health Commission denied of any "clear evidence" of human-to-human transmission and the attending medical staff was forbidden to express any concerns in public. Li Wenliang now known internationally as the "whistleblower" doctor who tried to warn colleagues about a SARS-like virus died on 7 February 2020 after he was investigated by authorities for "disturbing social order" by "making false comments". A number of Chinese journalists including Chen Qiushi, Fang Bin and Zhang Zhan were censored, even jailed or disappeared for the coverage contrary to the official narrative of Beijing's response.
The editor of the People’s daily, one of the mouthpieces of the CCP and a Chinese government official tweeted on 26 January 2020 claiming the building of the Huoshenshan Hospital in just 16 hours. However, an American news website “The Daily Beast” reported the very next day that the building shown in the picture was actually a marketing photo of a modular building sold by the Henan K-Home Steel Structure Company more than 600 miles away from Wuhan, and not of the hospital as claimed. A human rights watch analyst observed that the Chinese state-owned media and some party official were spreading disinformation to convince foreigners of Beijing’s successful response to the growing public health emergency owing to Covid-19 epidemic. Another human watch activist, Yaqiu Wang, observed that the state boast was not surprising as being able to build things quickly was certainly impressive, but the key to epidemic control was trust and transparency which was sadly lacking in China due to the government’s own making,
The Chinese government also indulged in a constant propaganda war through its state controlled media and spokespersons by periodically repeating claim that COVID-19 did not actually originate in Wuhan, but across multiple locations around the world since autumn of 2019. In response to official concerns expressed in US, two official spokesmen Zhao Lijian and Geng Shuang for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs came out with a conspiracy theory in February 2020 that the SARS-CoV-2 had been bio-engineered by the Western powers, specifically the US Army. The Chinese state media propagated in March 2020 that the origin of coronavirus could be Italy where unusual pneumonia cases dated back to November 2019 and even alleged the imported sea food from West might have been the source of outbreak in Wuhan. Then the same media was noticed propagating a misleading account of a WHO official in November 2020 suggesting origin of the virus outside China. The Xinhua News Agency and China Global Television Network (CGTN) later misconstrued and misquoted Alexander Kekule, Director of the Institute for Biosecurity Research in Halle suggesting that the most of coronavirus spreading around the world was from a variant originated in the northern Italy, which Kekule rebutted as Chinese “pure propaganda”. In yet another report, the state backed Chinese People’s Daily alleged that the earliest human-to-human transmission occurred in the Indian subcontinent three to four months even before the Wuhan outbreak.
In fact, Prof Shi Zhengdi of China had invited one of the biggest controversies and reactions in media when she in an article in the Science Magazine referred to number of vague studies to suggest the virus existed outside of China before the first case was reported in Wuhan in December 2019. In a review in March 2020, The Washington Post, otherwise known as a newspaper of liberal or leftist leanings, had reported the anti-American conspiracy theories in the Chinese state media and social media were actually a product of unexplained government official statements. The Observer had reported in April 2020 the Chinese blanket ban on the publication of any paper on the origin of coronavirus without the vetting of their Ministry of Science & technology. In January 2021, the Chinese conspiracy theory of SARS-CoV-2 originating in US military biology lab at Fort Detrick was revived asking the US government to open it for investigations. In these and many such other misleading claims, China did not produce any credible evidenceto back up their averments and allegations. This intentional disinformation campaign by China was also discussed among the Group of Seven nation and alleged conspiracy claims were rebutted as dangerous and ridiculous by the US State Department during the President Trump regime.
Similarly, a lot of misinformation was also created on the treatment of the Covid-19 disease. It was aggressively publicized through the social media how the traditional Chinese medicines were found to be very effective in the Covid-19 treatment. The State Council Information Office in China claimed in a white paper in June 2020 that the Chinese herbal formulas and drugs were administered to about 92 percent of all confirmed Covid patients with a success rate of 90 percent in Hubei, the most affected province. While many skeptics in the West doubted these claims, UK based researcher, Edzard Ernst even opined in the journal Nature that there was no good evidence of traditional medicines and its use was not only unjustified but dangerous too. Many Chinese media outlets and CGTN raised doubts on the efficacy of the mRNA based Pfizer vaccine simultaneously citing the Chinese vaccines as relatively safer due to their mature technology.
The state controlled Chinese media and government officials on many occasions have not only promoted their own cause and success stories all along these two years of the COvid-19 pandemic, they have also remained actively engaged in a smearing campaign against other countries such as US, UK, European Union countries, their allies and India. For instance, Taiwan sources traced the origin of misinformation in the mainland China about the pandemic going out of control in the country towards the end of February 2020. In response, however, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office charged the Democratic Progressive Party of Taiwan spreading hatred between the two sides through lies. Similar outrageous misinformation about pandemic position in India during the second wave in April-May 2020 was reported by the Chinese media talking of the horror stories and inadequacies in rural India. The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs asked the Chinese state media in August 2021 to remove allegations attributed to a non-existent Swiss biologist about the United States’ alleged pressure on WHO to blame China for the pandemic. The Chinese "intentional disinformation campaign" appears to be an integral part of their strategy to deflect the problems and attention elsewhere.
About SARS-CoV-2 Variant: Omicron
Ever since its initial outbreak in Wuhan, China, SARS-CoV-2 virus has undergone several mutations, and such new variants had been designated by the WHO as Alpha (B.1.1.7), Beta (B.1.351), Gamma (P.1) and Delta (B.617.2) in the past. The latest variant Omicron (B.1.1.529) was initially reported in South Africa in November 2021 and patients almost simultaneously detected in other countries. Omicron has been noted as a variant of concern by the WHO owing to multiple mutations and its tendency to spread fast. Arguably, the WHO had begun naming the variants after Greek letters for the sake of uniformity, and avoiding public confusion and stigma. The common symptoms involving Omicron include weakness, tiredness, headache, low grade fever and pain in the throat.
The WHO designated the newly detected SARS-CoV-2 variant with an enormous 32 mutations in the spike protein alone as a variant of concern (VOC) and named it 'Omicron', after a Greek letter under its nomenclature system. In Greek, micros means “little”, the new variant contrasts with the Greek alphabet ‘omega’ which comes from “o mega” or “large o.”; omicron represents a short vowel and omega a long vowel in Greek. Although owing to its initial response as a very fast spreading variant, it created scare across the globe but the WHO has now observed that the preliminary findings suggest Omicron infections may be “less severe” compared to the earlier Delta variant. However, the world health body has also added a caution that it is too early to make any firm conclusion about the strain's severity. Such an observation is largely based on the experience of South Africa’s health department that suggested the majority confirmed omicron cases had mild symptoms.
Currently, the latest SARS-CoV-2 variant Omicron has started causing rampage and outrage worldwide. As on 22 December 2021, Omicron was detected in 104 countries with a total of 198,383 confirmed cases and 257,848 suspected infections with more affected countries being UK, South Africa, US and Denmark. Quoting sources in the Health Ministry, a news channel has reported 422 Omicron cases (130 already recovered) in India too with Maharashtra and Delhi being more affected states. However, despite the scare caused by the new strain, more satisfying news appears to be that the symptoms caused by this variant are less severe and dangerous. Reports from South Africa and UK too suggest that fewer patients in such cases need hospitalization and Oxygen supplement, and also relatively fewer days of retention in the hospital. Besides, of nearly two hundred cases analyzed so far in India also suggest that more than seventy percent such patients were asymptomatic.
Despite the pandemic ravaging the world for two years now, some haunting questions yet remain to be answered. For instance, what is the origin of SARS-CoV-2 and which nation or people are accountable for it? Apprehensions have been expressed from many quarters that the spread of virus could have been better handled to prevent the global disaster: who will answer or unlock this puzzle? Should the erring country organization be identified and be forced to pay for the sufferings of the vast community of the nations? Who should be held accountable for the insurmountable loss of human lives and world economy and asked for compensation? What more steps are needed to be collectively taken by the global community to control the virus and its ill-effects on the global population? Then, is it possible to hold the guilty nation legally accountable for its acts of omission and commission? Perhaps finding the answers is not very difficult but a far bigger is who will bell the cat!
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