Expert Opinion

The New Normal

August 25, 2020

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Written by Siddhartha Rastogi (MD – Ambit Capital Pvt Ltd)

Was Nature preparing humanity to social distancing?

Was rise of Novel Coronavirus or Covid-19 in the anvil for a long time?

21st Century

The earliest seeds of the internet can be found in the 1960s. But it took 50 years for it to become a commercial rage.

Social media, internet-based entertainment, online groceries, online jamming sessions; online delivery of every household item, online discotheques mushroomed in the last decade.

Audio cassette, fiber tip pen, silicone breast implants, were some of the inventions which arrived in the 1960s, the same was commercialized and few among them have even become history.

Is it sheer coincidence that right-wing politicians have taken over the world with storm and protectionist and isolated self-dependence by countries is the new norm?

Whether it’s America or China or the European countries, more nations are trying to protect their industrial interest by putting an embargo on imports. Why this change from globalization to ‘make local’ and ‘consume local’?

The arrival of the 21st century and the advancement of telecommunications led to the progress of the smartphone, and then the whole new generation of millennials became comfortable with their ‘own company’, rather than having a greater need to meet and greet people. Millennials led the path to show the existing humanity that one is happy and satisfied if one is public rage on social media, rather than in person.

Hits, views, likes, made their way to social acceptance. In the name of work-life balance, more millennials preferred to work from home, leading to the rise of virtual conference rooms, virtual meeting rooms, and even virtual dating rooms!

Most intellectuals will argue that this is due to the rise of the World Wide Web (www), the counter-argument remains, why it took so long for www to even spread.

Before we drive further, let’s look at the rear mirror, as history has a lot to say and teach.

The History

Since humans evolved, epidemics have been in existence. The earliest one can be found 5,000 years ago – circa 3000 BC which in China – modern-day Hamin Mangha, where the entire village was wiped out due to the disease.

It’s important to clear the difference between ‘epidemic’ and ‘pandemic’ at this juncture as both these words are repeatedly used in this note.

A pandemic is a phenomenon used to describe a disease that has spread across many countries and affects a large number of people, whilst an epidemic is a rise in the number of cases of a disease beyond what is normally expected in a geographical area.

As humans progressed through the centuries, every 200-250 years, massive plague outbreaks wiped out a large number of Homo sapiens from this planet. Plague is caused by bacteria and could be very fatal.

Plague of Athens – 430 BC, Antonine Plague in 165 AD, Plague of Cyprian – 250 AD, Plague of Justinian – 541 AD, the Black Death – 1346 AD, American plague – 16th century, Great Plague of London – 1665-1666, which killed nearly 15% of London’s population, Great Plague of Marseille 1720 AD or Russian Plague 1770, all were driven by bacteria and not virus. The adverse impact of bacteria was largely undone, when antibiotic was first invented in 1928, until which time, there was no certainty of a cure.

The earliest virus attacks can be traced from the 1793 Philadelphia Yellow fever epidemic. In a matter of three months between August and November, nearly 10% of Philadelphia’s population of 50,000 died. Most neighbouring states quarantined its people and debarred individuals to travel from Philadelphia to other states. As winter arrived, mosquitoes died, and the Yellow fever vanished. By then the damage was done.

By the end of the 19th century, the deadly flu pandemic hit the planet, which originated from Russia and spread throughout Europe. It took away 1 million lives globally in a human population of 1.6 billion.In 1916, the American Polio epidemic broke out causing 6,000 deaths. Many more were disabled due to the virus. In 1910, it was found that polio is contagious and can spread through faecal matter and contaminated water. Polio is usually spread via the faecal-oral route (i.e., the virus is transmitted from the stool of an infected person to the mouth of another person from contaminated hands or such objects as eating utensils). Some cases may be spread directly via an oral to oral route. The first polio vaccine was found in 1950, and after 70 years with governments and social organisations spending billions of dollars on hygiene & vaccination, 33 cases of polio were still reported in 2018Let’s shift to the last century which is more relevant for our understanding. Spanish Flu, which has nothing to do with Spain, originated immediately after the First World War in 1918. Most European countries supressed the news of fatalities with Spain neutrally publishing the data, thereby becoming famous for Spanish flu. World population around that time was 2 billion and nearly one in every four persons living on planet earth was infected by it and killing as many as 17 to 50 million by some estimates (no conclusive records and hence the range).

Before 1918, it was believed that flu or influenza virus generally hits very young or very old people, however, specialists figured out that Spanish flu triggered cytokine storm, which hits the stronger immune system of young adults thus taking the numbers so high. The fatality was also high due to the second wave which hit in the same year a few months later in August 1918, which was much more deadly as the virus got mutated as time lapsed. Some attribute this to a high dosage of aspirin, which caused poisoning in the body. The cases of Spanish flu lasted till 1920. The exit from Spanish flu was either immunity or death. With limited medication and vaccines available, large populations developed antibodies.

Mid last century, in 1956, Asian flu was another pandemic that hit the planet and found its roots in China. The virus that caused the pandemic was a blend of avian flu viruses H2N2. The population back then was 2.87 billion and the virus caused 2 million deaths worldwide (as per WHO), whilst some estimates say the number was anything from 1 million to 4 million. By the time it arrived in the United States, the US had already developed a vaccine basis the learning from the Russian Flu – 1889 and hence the number of deaths was controlled. Mass production of vaccines enabled the US to contain the pandemic early.

AIDS caused by HIV, another virus that existed for a long time was first identified in 1981. Since then, it has taken 35 million lives and currently, over 40 million individuals are infected and living with it. Due to the different nature of the virus, it’s not contagious and the medical world has found a cure through various antiviral treatments. The sad part remains that vaccine or complete confirmed medication is yet to be developed for HIV infections.

The two epidemics, in West Africa – Ebola (2014), in South America – Zika (2015), yet have to find vaccines. Although in both cases, Ebola which infected 28,600 reported cases, led to 11,325 deaths (~ 40% mortality), whilst Zika, didn’t lead to increased mortality, it increased the chances of birth defects in new-born and infants.

First Pandemic of 21st Century

The latest pandemic known to humans before Covid-19 is H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic which hit the world somewhere in March 2009 can find its roots from Mexico and spreading across the world. In a year’s time, it infected 1.4 billion people across the globe when the population on the planet was 6.87 billion. It took almost 18036 lives – WHO records (CDC believes 284,000 -575000 deaths). The virus was similar which caused Spanish flu although with a different strain.

The pandemic got over in around 18 months, with HINI vaccination being administered in most parts of the world. Since most virologists knew about the virus, the economic impact, lives it took and recovery was rather quick.

Some lessons which emerge from the learning of the past include that early knowledge can save the day. A vaccine is the only fool-proof method to end the epidemic or pandemic, however, measures like social distancing, quarantine, building human immunity through good diet, hygiene and physical exercise can do wonders.

If one traces back all these in history one can conclude that, after three or four months as well, social distancing will continue, perhaps assembly of more people at any venue or gathering will be prohibited.

Earth - First Pandemic

India?

For most of the viral infections, vaccines have been created, still every year, India witnesses many people infected by viruses which cause dengue, chikungunya, acute encephalitis, etc. Immune system of Indians is far more resilient to viral infections as compared to the Western world. That holds true for parts of the African region where the influence of COVID-19 has been low and will continue to be low in comparative terms.

Another school of thought states that countries like India and emerging nations which continue to administer BCG (Bacillus Calmette – Guerin) childhood Vaccination, which is to protect humans against tuberculosis and Leprosy have a stronger immune system to fight against COVID 19. Research trials are ongoing on this subject with no concrete conclusion at the moment.

There can be only a two-course action.

A. Prevention

The cost of prevention can be very high as the economic impact of it due to social distancing can be significant. However, that’s the only way to prevent the spread of the virus. The virus hits the weaker body faster and the body’s immune system which is hit and weak may not be able to cope up with it. Also, as one can see from the Spanish flu of 1918, a second wave comes even stronger as the virus gets mutated.

Thus, it can easily be interpreted that many borders of countries in the near term may remain sealed. ‘Make and consume locally’ may become the new and global norm for some time.

Gatherings, mass sports, entertainment events, even movies in theatres will take a back seat.

How long will it last? If one goes by history, it can be anything from 15 to 18 months. However complete Lockdown will evolve into graded isolation depending on the utility of service & job involved.

B. Resilience

There are two ways to build resilience. Either a person gets infected or there is a vaccine. At least from the current status, it looks like; the vaccine is still 8-12 months away. Also, the quantum of production and costs involved is a major challenge. With an aging population in large parts of the world, to fulfill the demand for vaccines it can take a few months to a couple of years.

On the other hand, if the number of infections increases, the proportionate number of casualties to COVID-19 will only increase.

World 30 days from now?

Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) of 1973 in the Indian context which prohibits unlawful assembly may remain in force.

Offices will be asked to work with half or one third the capacity on a rotational basis.

A large number of industries including luxury, aviation, travel, tourism, sports, cinema, movie screening, construction, real estate, high-end cars, and hospitality, will get hit adversely.

Limited international travel will be seen in the next 18-24 months for business purposes, (maybe negligible for personal leisure).

There will be an acute shortage of labour, as most unskilled and lowest level labour will dread to come back to cities until complete normalcy returns which may be far fetched from 12-18 months.

There can be a stagflation kind of scenario beyond the recession. The income levels will fall and the cost of goods and services will rise due to reduced production.

The silver lining in the entire Pandemic is a digital way of doing business whether advisory or any value-added services. That will have great cost economics on the businesses & global economy.

Exit route for Covid-19 pandemic?

Herd Immunity – is a form of indirect protection from infectious disease that occurs when a large percentage of a population has become immune to an infection, whether through previous infections or vaccination, thereby providing a measure of protection for individuals who are not immune

  1. Build Immunity – Healthy food, healthy environment and a healthy body with resistance to fight the virus. Do not self-medicate, it’s better to have no medication against the virus than wrong medication, as witnessed from the example of Italy where wrong medication increased the death toll, or aspirin overdose created higher mortality in the year 1918.

  2. Social distancing

  3. Vaccine

The New Normal

  • Increased productivity, due to reduced staff
  • Less pollution & less wastage of time due to less travel
  • Efficient use of technology to converse & convert opportunity into business.
  • Less interpersonal issues as less face to face confrontation
  • Less politics, as fear of survival, will dominate
  • Print media will finally be put to rest
  • More cohesive families will emerge
  • The human focus will shift from desire to necessities
  • Maybe more equidistribution of wealth, egalitarian society

References –

Wikipedia

Healthline.com

Worldometers.info

CDC.gov

Livescience.com

clinicaltrialsarena.com

Disclaimer:

The views mentioned in the note are personal. All the data and facts are collected from the secondary sources, references of which have been given above. The author of this article cannot confirm the authenticity of the data as data has been taken from the other websites. This note is written to make people aware of one of the many possible outcomes which humanity can see in future, basis past human history; however, no one can predict action & reaction of Mother Nature. Prudence, Camaraderie, Vasudhav kutumbkam is the need of the hour. If selfish interests of individuals, societies or nations will continue to prevail, outcome of this event will be far more draconian then envisaged. As all religions, as all holy books have always propagated, that Helping someone is equivalent to worshipping almighty & will only make one stronger hence extend a helping hand to everyone who is needy.


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