A pandemic describes an infectious disease, where there is a significant transmission across the globe at the same time. An infectious disease becomes a pandemic because of its widespread nature or because of its fatality rate. Throughout history, we have seen many pandemics such as plague, smallpox, influenza , tuberculosis etc.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic was caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the first outbreak was identified in Wuhan, China. As of recent reports (7 May 2020) more than 3.75 million cases have been reported across the world. The virus spreads through contact with contaminated surfaces, through respiratory droplets produced by the infected people (via coughing , sneezing, talking etc) – these droplets settle on the surfaces rather than remaining in air. It is more contagious for the first three days of infection and the onset of symptoms. Symptoms include fever, cold, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, sore throat, headache, chills, vomiting, hemoptysis, diarrhea etc. In certain cases, complications like pneumonia, acute respiratory disease, sepsis, septic shock and kidney failure are also seen. The symptoms are seen after five days from the first exposure to the virus. In certain cases some persons are asymptomatic, with no clinical symptoms even after the onset of infection.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued certain guidelines that must be followed to avoid the further spread of the virus. Preventive measures include maintaining overall good hygiene, washing hands with soap regularly and avoiding touching the face, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
Containment and Mitigation
The basic strategies that are used in controlling the outbreak are : containment and mitigation. Containment is generally taken as a precautionary approach in the early onset of outbreak, the identification of infected persons and isolating the individuals form the common population for the further spread of the virus to the rest of the population. When it is not possible to contain the spread of disease, measures are taken to mitigate the spread and its effect on the society and health care system. Goals of mitigation includes the possible lessening of the cases and progressive increases in the healthcare system. Non – pharmaceutical interventions include personal preventive measures such as hygiene, use of facemasks, self-quarantine, avoiding the public gatherings, social distancing, cleaning the surfaces, environmental hygiene etc may be taken to manage the outbreak. Mitigation attempts that are inadequate may cause increase in the spread of the disease.
What is social distancing?
Social distancing/physical distancing is the practice of maintaining the possible distance/close contact between people to avoid spread of disease. It includes other measures to control the spread of infection such as quarantines, travel restrictions, closing of workplaces, schools, malls etc. Individuals can practise social distancing by staying at home, avoiding crowded places, limiting travel and most importantly using non-physical ways of greeting others – wave or nod instead of handshakes, hugs , tip your hat, salute, use sign language etc.
In late March 2020, the WHO and other health bodies began to replace the use of the term “social distancing” with “physical distancing”, to clarify that the aim is to reduce physical contact while maintaining social connections, either virtually or at a distance.
Why is social distancing required?
In the absence of medical remedies, prevention is the only option to avoid getting infected from the disease. Viruses use the human body as the host, and replicate in number infecting that human host. In general, viruses have a variety of ways to infect people. An infected person can infect 2-3 others. If infection goes on at the same rate, without any preventive measures, the number of cases would be uncountable.
COVID-19 is more infectious than any other coronaviruses, as the case fatality rate is high (less deadly than SARS, though). The main reason for the spread of the virus across the world is that thousands of people who were infected and showed no clinical symptoms or showed mild symptoms such as cold, were mistaken for cases of common cold or mild fever. Thus, the virus spread very quickly. Since the new coronavirus can spread unnoticed, the WHO recommended that social distancing is the most effective way of avoiding the spread of disease. Many governments have felt that the best way to ensure the minimal spread of virus and minimal contact with people is with complete lockdown, allowing only for movement of essential goods and services (medicines, groceries etc,) and continue to practise social distancing.
187 countries have confirmed at least a single case so far. National measures such as closing all the borders, travel restrictions, evacuation of foregin citizens, complete lockdown etc are being followed. Restrictions first began in China. By the end of late April around 90% of the population was in a lockdown in various countries around the world.
Scenario in India
The first case was reported on 30 January 2020. As of May 7, a total 52,952 cases were reported. According to reports the infection rate is 1.7, which is significantly lower than the other countries in the world. By mid March the government of India announced the complete lockdown. Testing for local transmission began in mid March. Reports released by the government stated that around 40% of the patients did not have a travel history or any history of contact with COVID patients. Local transmission has been quite high due to local gatherings, public events, panic buying, lack of traceability of people suspected to be infected, etc. Several measures are being taken for the downslide of the number of cases.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many conspiracy theories, misinformation regarding treatment procedures, diagnosis, preventive measures, origin of the disease etc., through social media, mass media and other messaging platforms. The WHO has declared that the ‘infodemic’ of incorrect information may lead to risk in global health. We must stick to authentic sources for obtaining the right information.
Stay informed, stay healthy and stay safe!