Pull Up Your Masks!
History has shown that pandemics are occurring more frequently and have become unpredictable in timing and severity. The horrific scale of the 1918 influenza pandemic is hard to quantify. The virus infected 500 million people worldwide and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims. The pandemic was caused by the H1N1 Influenza virus and appeared in 3 waves over a span of 2 years.
The mortality rate of the third wave was just as high as the second wave, but the end of the war removed the conditions that allowed the disease to spread far and quickly. Global deaths from the third wave, while still in millions, paled in comparison to the apocalyptic losses during the second wave.
Historians now believe that the fatal severity of the Spanish flu’s ‘second wave’ was caused by a mutated virus spread by wartime troop movements. The COVID-19 pandemic is often compared to the Spanish flu as the two events are eerily similar. Like today’s coronavirus pandemic, the Spanish flu found people unprepared. Even though a lot of lives were lost in 1918, it could act as a lesson for the present and help prepare us for an incoming second wave.
Vaccination against Covid-19 picked up steam in India with 1.48 lakh persons receiving the first dose across 25 states and union territories, taking the total vaccinated persons so far to 3.81 lakh. Although the arrival of a vaccine has been the hot topic for a year now, this does not mean we can drop our guard and get back to pre-pandemic levels of congregation; rather, it means that we must continue to be careful and still take all necessary precautions to be safe during the next few crucial months.
Studies suggest that cases can spike by up to 2.6 million infections in a single month if measures such as physical distancing and wearing masks are ignored. Although the total number of cases in India have declined significantly over the past few months and it has caused some much-needed respite among the people, opening up of public spaces and cheap travel expenses has encouraged people to step out of their isolation bubble and has given a hope of ‘an end to this worldwide crisis’. Cynicism will suggest that this indeed has been the case in India, where it is not uncommon to see the nose poking out of the mask, if at all there is a mask on the face.
It is argued that the risk of a second wave is minimal in most places across the country because most people have already been exposed. For the same reason, it is commonly believed that we might not need to be overly concerned about the new variants either. But, there is, of course, a flip side to it. If you have been careless about masks, handwashing, and social distancing, you stand at a greater risk of contracting the virus. The risk of complications and death are the same as they were earlier. So, if you are among those who have not had Covid-19, you should exercise the same caution and care, in fact more.
The same logic applies for cities and areas that did well in order to control the spread early in the course of the pandemic: they are at a higher risk of a ‘second wave’ as restriction on movement ends, and as schools, offices, and other public places reopen. This is perhaps what is happening in Kerala, Mumbai, and some other places that saw a number of new cases.
While it is useful for us to get a sense of where we are in the pandemic, it is not good enough to relax our guard. Individuals and local governments must continue to err amply on the side of caution. The ‘all clear’ signal will only come after a few months, once India’s vulnerable population has been vaccinated. Otherwise, we’re in the dereliction of our duties as responsible citizens.
Nationwide lockdowns have their own opportunity costs, thus, adopting a new normal is the only feasible solution. The Vice President of India, Mr. Venkaiah Naidu said life can’t be lived for long in confinement and just as people are living with HIV virus that has no vaccine by bringing in behavioural changes, we need to learn to live with coronavirus too by bringing in attitudinal changes.