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Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Planet Earth Closing In On COVID-19?


When the new strain of the Coronavirus struck China at the end of 2019 and later, in early next year, started spreading to other countries at a very fast rate the world hardly knew anything about the virus and watched helplessly as COVID-19 created havoc all around, posing the worst ever crisis faced by humanity. As the months rolled by scientists, researchers and medical fraternity the world over joined hands in studying, analyzing the virus and started coming up with life-saving repurposed drugs and development of effective vaccines. Till now, there has been no proven cure for the virus, but the repurposed drugs and the improvements in healthcare infrastructure have significantly contributed towards reducing the fatality rate, enabling patients to recover in increasing numbers and containing the disease in various worst affected countries. We will discuss here some positive developments that really are pointers to a possible conquest by humankind over the killer virus.

With the total number of Coronavirus infected people of the globe nearing 15 million, nearly 9 million has recovered thus registering a recovery rate of over 60 percent. In some countries or regions, the recovery rate has crossed the 70% mark. With this the fatality rates are coming down all around: a vast majority of the countries have succeeded in keeping the rates below 5%; the worst affected countries, mostly in Europe, that showed fatality rates in excess of 10% or even 15% have by now more or less controlled the spread of the virus and accordingly have successfully neutralized the death rate; in USA, the topmost country in terms of total infections, the alarming fatality rate of over 5% has come down now to 3.7% now, even though the country seems to have a second wave with large numbers of new cases every day; the second country in terms of total number of infections, Brazil, a similar trend is visible, and in the third worst affected country, India, the fatality rate has come down from over 3% to 2.46% at the moment with recovered patients touching nearly 65%. The only country to show a death rate above a shocking 25% is Yemen; however, at the moment new cases are not rising exponentially there.  Countries like Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, Jamaica, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Nepal, Puerto Rico, Singapore and Russia among others have registered very low fatality rates ranging from less than 1% to 2%.  Most significantly for Planet Earth the global death rate is now 4.19% which, hopefully, would reduce further in near future.  

Some researchers point out a difference between the actual number of infections and the reported or confirmed ones by which they want to say the number of deaths reported could be underestimated. In many countries like in the United Kingdom and also in China, in fact, fatality figures had been revised upwardly. This issue had been politicized in several states of India with respective political opposition alleging under-reporting in the numbers of deaths, and in most of the states the state government too had revised the figures upwardly. Besides, the factor of comorbidity has also created anomalies in reported deaths. In any case, this has not significantly contributed to a rising fatality rate in the concerned nations or regions.

Factors contributing to a reducing fatality rate and an increasing recovery rate are, as we mentioned earlier, thanks to the repurposed life-saving drugs like Favipiravir, Dexamethasone, Remdesivir, Tocilizumab etc. and a most effective method called Plasma Therapy, tried successfully in India and other countries mostly on severe under-ventilation patients. And then, the positive developments on the vaccine front.

The results of Phase-1 and Phase-2 human trials of a vaccine developed by the University of Oxford have been declared, and these are very positive: the vaccine appears to be safe and its injection into over a thousand human volunteers displays an immune response in them. Buoyed by this success the government of United Kingdom has already ordered 1 million doses to be produced and supplied. In India, Covaxin, being developed by Bharat Biotech, has entered human trials with more than 300 human volunteers for the Phase-1. The Director of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Delhi, has announced that 100 volunteers for the trials are being arranged from AIIMS, Delhi, and that the results of Phase-1 and Phase-2 human trials of Covaxin are expected in three months. This is to mention here that there are more than 100 vaccine candidates globally in various stages of development.

All indications, therefore, point to a period in near future when Planed Earth will be able to conquer the Coronavirus effectively, and hopefully, permanently. However, all these developments should never make us complacent and careless. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been pointing out repeatedly that COVID-19 is a very smart and dangerous virus, and it can outmaneuver human efforts by mutating itself which is a common feature of any virus that mutates periodically or even annually. Therefore, we must go on adapting to a new normal life, wearing masks all the time outside of home and observing other norms like social or physical distancing. In both India and the US, we have already seen the cost in terms of spread and fatalities thanks to the free-spirited citizens not agreeing to being locked-down and wearing masks or similar kinds of norms that they call ‘bondage’ or ‘agenda’ on the part of the authorities. And most importantly, although fatality rates are reducing, people are still succumbing to the virus on a daily basis which cannot be acceptable for humanity. For the final victory over COVID-19 not only the governments the world over must put in their best, but primarily the world citizens who must join in their cooperation and a united might.

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