Let’s wave goodbye to the second wave of Covid-19 | Sunday Observer

Let’s wave goodbye to the second wave of Covid-19

11 October, 2020

Is it the second wave of Covid-19 that we are experiencing in Sri Lanka? May be, may be not. It all depends on the way one defines the time duration and or the peaks and valleys of the impact of the virus. However, the number of people who are getting infected is on the rise at an alarming rate again after keeping it down to just two or three cases per day during the last two months.

As the second wave of Covid-19 sweeps across the globe it is important that we use what we learned from the first wave, and of course from all other epidemics in the past, in an effective manner to minimise the damage this time around. It would be helpful to find out what exactly happened and why we are facing this sudden spike, especially, after successfully checking its spread the first time. If we can put our selfish thoughts aside and start thinking as a nation where human life is considered the most valuable asset to be protected and nurtured, then there is no time more appropriate for it than now.

Old proverbs

This is the time to remind ourselves about the deeper meanings of old proverbs such as: ‘United we stand divided we fall’, which can be amended to read ‘United we win divided we lose’, and ‘Hope for the best, prepare for the worst’. While we diligently practise social distancing and quarantining the infected and the exposed people we should also remind ourselves that, ‘No man is an island.’ Therefore, it is important that we maintain the balance between the physical separation and emotional/mental unity with fellow members of society.

If we look at the history of pandemics and or epidemics the world has endured within the last hundred years, including what we know so far about Covid-19, we can learn about the precautionary measures to prevent people from getting such a virus and the treatment that can save lives.

The earliest traceable times during which social distancing had been practised were around the 5th to the 15th century when quarantine complexes were created for people with Leprosy, called ‘leper colonies.’ Then in early 1918, towards the final years of World War 1, the first wave of ‘Spanish Flu’ spread across the countries infecting over 500 million people with a death rate of about 50 million.

Numbers higher

The numbers were higher than those of the polio epidemic in the early 1900s since some of the constraints such as limited movement of people across countries, that were holding polio under control were different with the Spanish Flu. This first wave was assumed to have been brought by Chinese labourers working in Europe.

The virus reached most of the European countries, Australia, Japan, India and some African countries within about two to three months. Thereafter it subsided making the first wave mild with only a few deaths. The second wave started attacking people worldwide in September 1918, much more ferociously than the first, killing around fifty million people. India alone lost over twenty million of its population to the second wave of the Spanish Flu. It attacked twice more, making the second wave by far the deadliest of all pandemics in the recorded history of the planet.

One of the reasons for such a large number of fatalities was the lack of knowledge about the virus at that time. The second wave of the Spanish Flu showed what is called the W-curve where a large number of deaths was among the young and old with a large spike in the middle indicating an unusually high number of deaths in the age group of 25 – 35. During this time the world medical community started paying attention to social distancing as a viable method of slowing down the rate at which the virus was spreading. But, in the Asian Flu pandemic during 1957 – 58, millions around the world were infected with over 1.1 million deaths.

It showed that the world had not learned the lesson of ‘social distancing’ properly even though the pandemics prior to that had provided ample opportunity to do so. Of course, the lack of technology and or the scientific knowledge is not the only reason for the large death toll during the second wave of the Spanish Flu. After the first wave there was a sense of complacency across the world feeling that the worst is over. People got back to their normal lives and started travelling aroundand conducting their national and cultural festivals and business as usual not knowing what was to come.

This was the main reason why they lost control of the virus. In addition, the viruses themselves may go through mutation processes so that the second time around it will not be answering the remedies used in the first wave. Therefore, we should not make any assumptions such as that young children have a lesser chance of getting it or that the young have a better chance of fighting it.

We have seen that global trade and alliances fail in crises such as this where every country is practically left to itself. The government of each country would have to walk on a tight rope keeping the economic activities going while saving human lives. There should not be any political games between ruling parties and oppositions or majorities and minorities.

This certainly is not a time to conduct any nationwide activities such as examinations, elections, ceremonies and/or political rallies. It is obvious that the highly contagious Covid-19 is even more dangerous than most of those other viruses in the past with an incubation period of two to three weeks in a human body. The fact that some people can get infected and recover from it within two to three weeks without even showing any symptoms makes Covid-19 very dangerous since that infected person can spread the virus around to hundreds of people without making anyone aware of the transmission.

There can be hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of others who may be showing mild symptoms but not tested, and also who may be infected but not showing any symptoms and hence not tested either. What that means is that none of us can be sure about having the virus for quite some time and therefore the best way to minimise the possibilities of being a transmitter of the virus is to practise personal hygiene and social distancing.

The writer has served in the higher education sector as an academic for over twenty years in the USA and thirteen years in Sri Lanka and can be contacted at [email protected]