By Raffique Shah
March 16, 2020
I suppose it’s human nature to panic and go into the survival mode if there is a threat to life, especially when one’s family might be at risk, however remote the chances of someone dying from the COVID-19 virus may be. I sensed Trinis had arrived at the tipping point where mortal fear provokes panic, when, upon learning that one person had been diagnosed with the virus, mankind in droves stormed supermarkets across the country to purchase toilet paper by the bales.
Yes, toilet paper, which has emerged as a veritable symbol of struggle not only in this country, but elsewhere, as we saw in Venezuela during turmoil there.
According to an article in the online publication Vox.com, which cited a paper written by researchers from the University of Bern, Switzerland, using data from China), the fatality rate stood at under one percent for persons below age 30, but rose to 18 percent for people in their 80s particularly among those who suffered from certain chronic diseases such as hypertension, heart disease and diabetes.
In other words, healthy young people and those below age 70 whose immune systems are not compromised have little to fear from the coronavirus. True, it’s highly contagious. But realistically, the average person will likelier fall victim to the common flu or H1N1 than the virulent strain that is threatening to bring the world to a screeching halt. It is difficult to understand why, across the world, and certainly here in T&T, people are panicking so much so that governments have mounted campaigns to restore some sanity to the populations in affected countries.
I think Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh and Chief Medical Officer Roshan Parasram have acquitted themselves well in the run-up to what they have both warned was inevitabile. They and medical professionals across the country, have counseled the population on how to minimise its impact through simple hygiene and by adjusting some mores of the society, such as not shaking hands or kissing when greeting friends.
Of course, the litmus test of all the preparations made for this most unwelcome guest will be conducted during the next few weeks, possibly months, depending on how long it plans to stick around, or when scientists formulate a vaccine to seriously reduce its negative impact. From what we have been told, and the responses to the outbreak by countries affected early on, containment is the most practical strategy. China, where it all began a mere three months ago, has utilised the State machinery to virtually lock down all affected provinces. In short order, it seems to have halted the spread of the virus, and is working hard to eliminate it as a public health threat.
Italy has followed suit, doing what must have seemed unthinkable a few weeks ago-shutting down the country, with only its armed forces, police and medical personnel allowed to move around. Other affected countries will follow, as harsh as such measures may seem. We stand a good chance of not having to resort to this drastic measure if the Government, the relevant State agencies, and the population accepts the dosage of “bitter medicine” already administered.
I like the proposed use of self-quarantine, whereby persons diagnosed with the virus, but who are not in need of critical attention (such as intensive care), are allowed to remain in their homes, overseen by family members or relatives, with health officials monitoring their progress. This approach will obviate the need for huge hospital spaces that we do not have or cannot now construct, which the Chinese did.
Given that most victims of the virus, especially the young and those with no other medical challenges, experience minimal discomfort and recover pretty easily, this option is very attractive. Most people have an aversion to being hospitalized, and they will likelier stay at home and comply with what is required of them on the understanding that should they breach the care and recovery protocols, they will forfeit the option to remain in their homes.
All of the above are premised on the prospect of T&T not experiencing a huge hit from the virus. If, globally, the pandemic turns south before the genie can be placed back in the bottle, then we, and the rest of the world, will be in big trouble. I have listened to eminent scientists and medical doctors address the prospect of a cure or vaccine for COVID-19. Nothing is in the laboratories just yet, so we must focus on containment, on reducing the impact of its first salvo, which has been very dramatic, not to add traumatic.
People of my generation and older have seen the invasion of many contagions and more than a few viruses in our time. Polio, for example, was particularly nasty, more so because it targeted children, not adults. Its dirty handiwork, which lingers long after a vaccine ended its reign of terror, still exists in a few souls, all of whom are now in their 60s or older.
Malaria massacred millions of people, mostly in the tropics, and cholera continues to this day to mass-murder mostly poor people in unsanitary living spaces. HIV appeared in the 1980s like a crazed elephant in a play room stomping mercilessly on young adults. Many other agents of death seemed invincible when they first appeared. Man has conquered them all…well almost. COVID-19 will go the way of all such viruses, of that I am convinced.