What COVID-19 exposed!


By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

Leaving aside the idiocy and the lack of social responsibility displayed by some of our brethren, returning to the safety of the Motherland escaping the virulence of a tiny virus devastating Europe, many an interesting fact has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic. The term ‘pandemic’ itself causes jitters as most assume that it implies severity, whereas what it actually means is the geographical distribution: That it is prevalent in many continents of the world, simultaneously.

When the WHO declared COVD-19 a pandemic, on March 11, there were 118,000 cases in 114 countries with 4,291 deaths. The numbers and deaths have rapidly increased since and, on March 19, Italy surpassed the death toll in China. By 26, Spain also passed the death toll in China and USA overtook China in the total number, having 83,500 cases. President Trump, ever ready with an explanation, claimed that it was "a tribute to the amount of testing that we're doing"!

Worryingly, death rate in Italy and Spain are almost double that of China, where there were 3,291 deaths out of a total of 81,782 diagnosed cases, whereas in Italy it is 8,215 out of 80,589 cases and in Spain 4,145 out of 56,197. Paradoxically, the fourth most affected country, Germany has a very low mortality rate there being only 239 deaths out of a total of 43,646 cases.

Maybe, a bit of totalitarianism is good!

When China introduced what some in the West termed ‘draconian measures’, most liberal commentators started blaming the Chinese of an overkill. Interestingly, the very same commentators are now blaming their own governments for not being strict enough with the measures introduced! Perhaps, this goes to show how judgmental most of us are, expressing opinions based on preconceived notions. How China built two new hospitals, each taking only ten days, was not widely reported or appreciated in the West!

The drastic action China took, though may have appeared merciless at the time, has proved to be quite effective paying dividends. In a matter of three months the epidemic is brought under control and there are only a few ‘native’ cases, any new cases being ‘imported’ by Chinese returning from other countries. Considering that China introduced these restrictions at the time of their biggest internal migration, the Chinese New Year, it would not have been politically popular. They may well have been able to do so because of the nature of the regime. What may appear not appropriate in normal times, may have distinct advantages during extreme emergencies of this nature. How Europe reacted, perhaps, illustrates this further.

Though South Korea was the second hot-spot, thanks to the spread by a religious group, quick action by the government with extensive testing and the optimum usage of modern communications, which it excels in, seems to have reigned in the epidemic.

Story in Europe is totally different

Northern Italy became the next hot-spot but containment measures were delayed for reasons unknown. This has resulted in an epidemic that has proved to be more lethal than the original in China. Higher mortality rates raise the issue of whether there are two different strains of the Corona Virus at play. It is well known that viruses mutate fast and some virologists are of the opinion that the original S-type virus which jumped from animals to humans has mutated to a more aggressive L-type. However, most admit that this is not the sole explanation and high death rates in Italy, a country acknowledged to have a very advanced health care system, is cause for concern without doubt. Maybe, the longevity of Italians with a high percentage of over 70’s living in Italy could be a contributing factor. Spain has now joined the league with high mortality.

Interestingly, though most of the 106 cases diagnosed cases in Sri Lanka are ‘imported’ from Italy, fortunately, there has been no fatalities, so far. Similarly, in UK, which also has most of its 11,658 cases ‘imported’ from Italy, the death rate is much lower, there being 578 deaths, most being in patients who were very elderly or with other co-morbidities. One young lady of 21 years with no other medical problems has died in UK, causing concern and highlighting that no one is safe from this deadly virus.

European Union has shown

no union at all!

UK decided on Brexit because it felt that an economic union was being progressively transformed to a political union. Therefore, at a crucial moment like this pandemic, one would have expected the political leaders of the European Union to act in concert to demonstrate the usefulness of a political union but what happened was just the opposite! There have been no summits of the leaders or of the over-paid bureaucrats. In spite of the impending severe financial crisis, there was hardly a whisper from the European Central Bank for a very long time. Instead, each country has been left to its own devices and the borders that disappeared once are reappearing again. China seems to have come to help Italy more than their European neighbours! Cuba sent a contingency of medics to help. One senior medic in Italy has been very critical of the attitude of the fellow Europeans, blaming Germany for not helping with even essential equipment.

When the dust settles, if Italy wants to go the UK way, it will be no surprise and what started with Brexit may be completed by the Coronavirus.

Fake news and Social Media

Worryingly, fake news about various aspects of the pandemic seems to be spreading very fast and wide, due to social media. Our own Field Marshall commented about non-existent fatalities and later blamed social media for misinformation! As a responsible politician, though I use the term responsible with some hesitation, he should know the gravity of such unverified utterances. Of course, the dental doctor of crocodile-fame came out with more fake news but no one will be surprised with his behaviour, being a fake-news merchant!

Sajith Premadasa does not seem to have learned a lesson from his bloopers during the presidential campaign and got into hot water by assuming the role of an expert physician, reminding us about the Sinhala saying "Ballage wede Boorowa baragaththa"!

US has come out the worst!

The most powerful country and the most powerful person in the world has failed again. When the virus hit China, US Trade Secretary made one of the most flippant remarks in modern times. He stated that this will be a trade advantage to US and now look what has happened: Chinese are restarting their engines whilst Trump & Co. are struggling!

President Trump tried to trivialize stating that Influenza is more dangerous. US refused to use WHO approved testing kits and wanted the Centre for Disease Control to develop their own kits, which was a failure. This resulted in delay in diagnosis and all 50 states have now been affected. Trump’s press conferences ooze with his opinions and CDC is not involved.

Trump continues to refer to COVID-19 as ‘The Chinese Virus’, which he may be doing on purpose to slur China, failing to realise that it may add to the speculations that this was a virus developed in US, released in Wuhan. To add insult to injury, Mike Pompeo refers to it as the Wuhan virus.

The American writer Dean Koontz refers to a rogue scientist-made virus with 100 percent mortality, in his thriller ‘The Eyes of Darkness’. It was called "Gorky-400" when the book was first published in 1981 and was renamed "Wuhan-400" when it was re-released in 2008. A cynic may say that the CIA had read this fiction and acted on it. Perhaps, considering what the CIA has done in the past, it is not an impossibility!

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