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Friday, March 13, 2020

Coronavirus: Uncertainty Grips Planet Earth!


Pandemics, a pandemic is defined as worldwide spread of a new disease, are not new to planet earth and the Homo sapiens. The first reported pandemic was dated back to 1580 with at least four pandemics of influenza that happened in the 19th century while three occurred in the 20th century as per the data from Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The influenza pandemic of 1918, also known as the Spanish flue, infected about 500 million people, one-third of world population that time, and killed around 50 million worldwide; in 1957, a novel influenza called A H2N2 virus killed over 1 million including 116,000 in the United States; another strain of the avian influenza ‘A H3N3’ originating in China killed 100,000 there and 1 million worldwide in 1968; in 2009 a novel influenza virus H1N1 emerged which was known as the ‘swine flu’, it was first detected in the United States that spread fast killing up to half a million people worldwide. Several other viruses including the  Ebola threatened to be epidemics, but were contained, luckily. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Coronavirus COVID-19 which first caused havoc in China and later spread very fast to more than hundred countries killing so far nearly 5000 people a pandemic on 11th March, 2020 with a few very interesting observations.

WHO finds it unprecedented because, ‘a pandemic caused by Coronavirus has never been seen before’ and that ‘other than influenza no other respiratory virus has ever been tracked from emergence to continuous global spread’, and that ‘such a pandemic that can be controlled at the same time has never been seen before’. It’s the last ‘controllability’ factor that has galvanized the modern, capable, digital world we live into revolutionary and unprecedented measures in the interest of public health and safety. And thanks to that, we’ve been witnessing a never-before scenario, that can happen only during war, with countries enforcing near-total clampdown on international travel, public gatherings and congregations, sports events, mass entertainment, institutional education and so on.  For example, in the immediate aftermath of the WHO declaration the government of India suspended visas till the 15th of April, 2020 putting a total stop to inflow of foreign tourists into the country and advising all its citizens not to undertake any international travel unless absolutely necessary; in many states and Union Territories of India including the capital region of Delhi schools, colleges, cinema houses were closed for a month; some states even closing down malls/shopping centres and social ceremonies or entertainment events for at least a week; all public events banned for a month with even the Supreme Court of India deciding to hear only urgent matters.

All sports events including football, cricket and others have been postponed globally, and on some occasions the never-before spectacle of matches being played without spectators or what is said as ‘behind closed doors’ emerging before us. Coming to the Indian example again, we must talk about the game of cricket here which is the craze of the country and the biggest money-spinner for the richest cricket board of the world, BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India). Therefore, it has been felt that perhaps cricket would continue unaffected despite all odds as if it were immune to COVID-19. And, it got proved, almost. On the day of the WHO declaration a one-day international cricket match was organized as per schedule between India and South Africa with thousands of spectators thronging the stadium going against all the precautions dictated by the authorities. Luckily, the rain-God intervened, and the match had to be abandoned. Later, the remaining two matches also got cancelled as the pressure mounted on the BCCI. On an earlier occasion too, the BCCI went ahead with an international match in Delhi when the capital city was literally suffocating under unprecedented pollution.

The biggest stumbling block to the anti-virus measures was the 13th version of the Indian Premiere League (IPL) which was to start from 29th March, 2020. In terms of money, glamour and glitz  involving both domestic and international cricketers this yearly cricket bonanza called the IPL is something that all parties, namely, the franchises, sponsors, organizers, business tycoons, movie mega-stars, spectators, TV viewers wait earnestly for. And therefore, all eyes were on the BCCI for two days for their final decision. All options were being discussed in the media: would it be postponed or would it be organized ‘behind closed doors’ with only TV live telecast or how would they bring in foreign players and accommodate them and so on. And finally, the BCCI decided to postpone the tournament till 15th April, 2020, in agreement with the authorities.

As we keep on watching the unprecedented scenario unfolding before us, as also we feel scared and vulnerable within, the uncertainty looming ahead is set to continue for quite some time, because experts or doctors can neither assert about a possible containment nor can they offer a solution in terms of a vaccine. The worst hit sectors of the economy being tourism and aviation, the impact is equally felt in terms of all forms of trade—selling and buying, hotels and resorts, exports and imports, volatile stock markets and the like. In case of the Indian economy already under a spell of a sustained slowdown the Coronavirus impact could just be devastating; of course, with ifs and buts. The virus is surging yet, still rampant across the globe. The next few days are going to be crucial. We can only pray for our planet earth and us.

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