It seems not so long ago; we were caged up and fear- ridden, forced to be at peace within the four walls of our home. Yet it’s exactly a year, writes Deepa Desa
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation declaring a national lockdown due to a global virus hitting India as a nation, was perhaps the most unexpected speech he delivered as a leader, and we as citizens disbelievingly heard.
No one could have fathomed what would follow post that speech and lockdown(s). In our wildest nightmares, we would never have dreamt that the Covid-19 scenario would unfold its events through the year and till today.
It seems not so long ago we were caged up and fear-ridden, forced to be at peace within the four walls of our home.
Yes, it’s a year.
We stepped out rarely, and when we did, we double masked up, wore gloves, wiped down anything that entered our house and said prayers to get us through the experience; uninfected.
Remember thinking this was just a bad case of a global flu which will go way once the vaccine is produced? Well, the vaccine is here; and our reality has pointed quite clearly that this “flu” isn’t going anywhere so soon.
And one year down the road, we are still in lockdown in certain parts of the country.
One fact that’s undeniable is the uncertainty that Covid-19 has brought with it. Through the long months of the pandemic, the virus constantly found new ways to surprise us, and force us to change any plans we harboured of unfolding.
It not recommended to look back once things are done with – 2020; or anything for that matter. But in this (unprecedented) case, perhaps it may do us good to gloss over lessons learnt (and some not!).
Let’s ponder a few points on how the corona virus has indelibly left its mark upon us:
1. Loss of life
Perhaps the biggest surprise, has been the sheer size and scale of the devastation.
In one year, the coronavirus infected 117 million people worldwide and killed nearly 2.6 million. So far, India has reported 11.36 million cases and 159k deaths.
2. Masking and social distancing are imperative if you step outside your home – because the virus lingers in the air
At the beginning of the pandemic, most medical experts thought the coronavirus spread through large respiratory droplets that travelled only a short distance through the air, or through intermediate objects that had been touched by an infected person. We were told to wash our hands frequently and disinfect surfaces.
But as the pandemic went on, we learned a ton, about just how important the air was for spreading this disease.
Airborne transmission is especially likely in enclosed spaces with poor ventilation, and when infected individuals are shouting, singing, or exercising.
A focus on mask wearing and social distancing will help protect us when we step out.
3. It’s worse than the flu – much worse!
Because the coronavirus and the seasonal flu are both respiratory viruses with similar symptoms, many experts early in the pandemic compared the two.
In addition to being more contagious, the coronavirus is also more deadly than the flu. The risk of death is tripled with Covid-19.
4. People with no symptoms can spread it
Normally, we can slow the spread of a virus by isolating people as soon as they show symptoms. But this doesn’t work for the coronavirus because infected people can spread it even if they don’t show any symptoms.
Researchers say this was one of most unexpected, and frightening, things they’ve learned about the coronavirus.
Young people can acquire the virus, shed it highly, but be completely oblivious. Yet the 75-year-old they walk past will most certainly get infected and very sick.
A study published in JAMA Network Open estimated that about 59 percent of all transmission is caused by people who haven’t yet developed symptoms or asymptomatic people who never develop symptoms.
5. Covid-19 is more than just a respiratory disease
Doctors originally thought Covid-19 was a novel virus (true), that caused a respiratory tract infection, with complications.
But they soon realised that the virus was also causing damage in the internal organs- the kidneys, liver, cardiovascular system and even the brain.
Many experts now believe the virus is likely a vascular disease, not a respiratory one. If the virus infects blood vessels and circulates through the body, that may explain its ability to cause so many wide-ranging symptoms.
It could also explain why high blood pressure alone puts people at significantly higher risk — another unusual characteristic of Covid-19.
6. It causes your body to attack itself
The aspect of Covid -9 that has emerged as most perplexing is how it causes an exaggerated and dangerous inflammatory response in some people. That response, caused by a patient’s own immune system, can lead to severe complications such as multi-organ failure or septic shock.
The medical fraternity has never seen a virus like Covid-19 and its variants.
The inflammatory aspect of the disease prompted doctors to adjust their treatment of Covid-19 patients.
Rather than using medicines that attack the virus, they have found that immunosuppressive drugs typically used for inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis can help Covid-19 patients during later stages of the disease.
7. The older you are, the more dangerous it is
Age is by far the strongest predictor of your risk from getting Covid-19, and this risk increases steadily as you age.
Fortunately, studies show avoiding chronic conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes can significantly improve your odds, no matter what your age.
8. The vaccines help hugely but are not 100% SARS‐CoV‐2 proof
Some of the best vaccines ever developed during the shortest period in history of time are on a full roll out across the globe. There are 7 vaccines up to date with more, being developed by pharma companies.
In India, we have Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, and AstraZeneca’s Covishield. Across the shores there is Moderna, Pfizer – BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson — all are at least 60- 86 percent effective against severe disease.
Because Covid-19 vaccines have only been developed in the past months, it’s too early to know the duration of protection of Covid-19 vaccines. Research is ongoing to answer this question.
However, it’s encouraging that available data suggest that most people who recover from Covid-19 develop an immune response that provides at least some period of protection against reinfection – although we’re still learning how strong this protection is, and how long it lasts.
9. It’s not going away anytime soon
Most experts now believe the coronavirus will never totally be eradicated. Even if the required 70 to 85 per cent Indian and global population gets vaccinated for herd immunity, the virus has already spread too far, and it’s mutating at a rapid pace.
10. The effect on our mental health
Eventually, a pandemic is not just a medical phenomenon; it affects individuals and society and causes disruption, anxiety, stress, stigma, and xenophobia.
Understanding the effects of the Covid-19 outbreak during the past year, on our mental health is as important as understanding its clinical features, transmission patterns, and management in the future.
Rapid human‐to‐human transmission of Covid-19 resulted in the enforcement of several lockdowns to stem the further spread of the disease.
Isolation, social distancing, and closure of educational institutes, workplaces, and entertainment venues forced people to stay in their homes to help break the chain of transmission.
These restrictive measures undoubtedly have affected the social and mental health of individuals from across the board.
Quarantine and self‐isolation can and have most likely caused a negative impact on one’s mental health. A review published in The Lancet said that the separation from loved ones, loss of freedom, boredom, and uncertainty can cause a deterioration in an individual’s mental health status.
The people most affected have been and continue to be – teenagers, school going kids, younger kids, elderly, and isolated adults (in care homes) as well as those alone at home, health workers.
Result? = The New Normal
We can now refer to this as current normal, as the novelty of the situation has worn off together with a large part of our fear.
Having looked at the patterns of transmission, some stats, and some medical inferences, in Part 2, we introspect on the more profound impact of this virus on our lives.
(To be continued – Part 2 )