The Wuhan or Chinese Virus, as it should be properly known, has a low kill-rate. This is quite unlike the Spanish flu of exactly 100 years ago that killed millions of people around the globe. The lack of medical sophistication of the time may have had a lot to do with that. But now, look at India; the kill-rate from this imported virus is below 2% of those infected so far, with just over 1,000 active cases, and 19 dead. This despite a spike upwards of under a hundred cases in just one day, yesterday.
Now we are purportedly in Stage 3 of the expected community spread. This involves infection and kill-rates between people who have not come from abroad themselves nor were in touch with anyone who recently returned from a country where the Wuhan Virus is rampant. However, the authorities are not signalling a community spread yet. Sangli, in Maharashtra, which saw 24 members of one extended family test positive after just one member came back from Saudi Arabia, has been quarantined.
Some political groups may push kill-rate up
The current statistics and kill-rate may well spike upwards as the lockdown the union government has imposed has been decisively breached within just eight days, from last Sunday. Lakhs of migrant workers have set off in defiance of the lockdown, determined to go back to their villages from the cities, particularly Delhi and Mumbai.
Uttar Pradesh has been forced to press 1,000 buses into motion to ferry some of these workers to their native villages, even as it will attempt to test and quarantine the returnees. Others intend to go to Bihar, Rajasthan, Gujarat- also from one southern state to another. Transport is hard to come by in the lock-down, so many, with wives and children in tow, are walking down the highways. They are flouting the lock-down with impunity, as the authorities are loath to use force on these very poor people. They will hike hundreds of kilometres if no transport comes to hand. The migrant workers prefer this hardship to being penniless and out-of-work in the city.
State governments in some cases are clearly not up to the task of looking after migrant workers over a prolonged period. Plus there is a fair amount of underlying political jockeying for advantage. Some forces are apparently not keen to see this lockdown succeed, even at the cost of suffering, sickness and lives lost. The Delhi government, it is reported, cut off the electricity and water to the slum clusters where the migrant workers from UP and Bihar lived in the capital. It even ferried them to the state borders in DTC buses meant to be used only for those engaged in essential services currently.
Global kill-rate not alarming either
Meanwhile, the global kill-rate presently is 35,344 from 7,42,531 active cases or just over 4.76%. Another 1,57,043 people have recovered so far. This includes those in the worst-affected countries such as Italy and the United States. And, of course, central China’s Wuhan in the Hubei province, where it all began. This reportedly from the consumption of bats and bat-soup, along with other wild animals and creatures not usually associated with the human food chain.
The Chinese government has, since this outbreak, banned the consumption of wild animals and birds. However, apparently, the specific traditional markets, where these creatures were sold in Wuhan, are said to be back in operation.
Conspiracy theorists have suggested, in a parallel train of thought, that this Wuhan virus was inadvertently leaked, or deliberately released, from a Chinese government biological warfare laboratory in the province. The government of China has refused to discuss what happened at the UNSC, with the help of Russia that sided with it. It has muzzled all internal query or criticism on the matter as well. An early whistleblowing doctor died from the Wuhan Virus and then another did. A Chinese businessman that criticised the handling of the crisis by the Xi Jinping-led junta has gone missing. American journalists based in China from The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times were expelled for writing negative pieces.
Several young Chinese — long dormant after the debacle of Tiananmen Square decades ago — are once again attempting to carry the torch of transparency at great personal risk. There is some ineffective criticism reported in the Chinese media, of President Xi Jinping’s leadership, particularly about keeping his own people in the dark.
China, on its part, presently claims it is mostly over the pandemic. It is gradually opening up in Wuhan, though it still does not allow people to travel in or out of the state. Foreigners are also not allowed into China after several returning students from the West brought the infection into Beijing. It is extraordinary how there have been no Wuhan Virus infections reported, let alone a kill-rate before now, in either Beijing or Shanghai and the manufacturing region around the latter.
China has also restarted its immense manufacturing machine to mitigate the hit to its economy. It is exporting masks, gloves, sanitisers, ventilators, medicines, to Europe and elsewhere. China is also reportedly buying up large chunks of equity in leading companies all over the West via the stock markets, at a fraction of their usual prices. And petroleum at bargain-basement prices.
At the same time, China has made bold to call all attempts to hold it responsible or culpable in any manner for sanctions or reparations, as both racist and unwarranted. China has even suggested that the virus was, in fact, introduced by the Americans, via NATO, into Wuhan Province. Playing off the same song-sheet, the WHO labelling of the Wuhan Virus has tried to give its origins a neutral patina. This, by calling it Coronavirus or COVID-19. It is a collusive attempt to distance China from the opprobrium of originating and spreading it, and its kill-rate. Millions of Chinese have been travelling from Wuhan and elsewhere over the Chinese New Year, before, and after. The devastation that the Wuhan Virus has caused to the leading economies of the world has driven almost all of them into recession.
In this, the WHO, led currently by a non-medical Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, from Ethiopia, who came to the top job, after covering up two SARS epidemics in his home country, is largely instrumental. Word on the street is that Ghebreyesus is a Chinese puppet who helped in the initial cover-up regarding the Chinese Virus. WHO even put out a message saying the Wuhan Virus was not contagious initially, this around December 2019. WHO did not call for any lock-down or issue any cautionary travel advisory either, even though it was in-the-know from November 2019.
What has become subsequently clear is that the Wuhan virus is extremely contagious, and makes those who are infected with it very sick with high fever, no sense of taste or smell, a very sore throat and difficulty in breathing. The most severe cases need to be put on ventilators in order to survive, if at all. However, empirical evidence suggests that it kills mostly those with low immunity. This, from underlying and existing conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, AIDS, heart disease. Also, those who are in ill-health from various causes, recovering cancer patients, the elderly. At the same time, a tough 103-year-old has reportedly recovered from the Wuhan virus.
There is no preventive vaccine as yet, and no specific drugs to treat the Wuhan Virus. Doctors, many of whom have died in the attempt, particularly in Italy, treat the Wuhan Virus symptomatically. They use a variety of medicines in their efforts, based on individual patient profiles and symptoms. There may well be more than one strain of the Wuhan Virus, varying in virulence. Some countries and its people may be less susceptible. The onset of summer might well reduce the potency of this pandemic. As India stares at another 17 days and nights of lock-down, there are those who are wondering if the forceful attempt to win over the Wuhan Virus is coming at too great an economic cost.
Economic fallout of China virus
India’s GDP forecast for 2020 post-Wuhan virus lockdown, is now at 2.5%, down from an already weak 5.3%. Also, maintaining the lock-down is proving difficult, despite there being no air or rail transport, and no scheduled international flights. The economic activity has had to grind to a standstill, and this hits the poor, middle-class and rich alike. The poor seem to be saying they would rather not die of starvation, Wuhan Virus notwithstanding. There are supply bottlenecks, administrative confusion, and implementation difficulties. The economy already weak due to low demand and massive NPAs is reeling from this fresh shock. All this then, for a kill-rate of under 5% of those made sick, even without a lock-down.
America, where the epicentre of the Wuhan Virus infections is in New York, along with the nearby states of New Jersey and Connecticut, has decided, on balance, not to quarantine these states. In fact, it has not locked-down anywhere, even as it has the largest number of infected people currently in the world. Most Americans do not have expensive medical insurance and are self confining in their homes if infected. People are being advised to maintain social distance and are doing so voluntarily in the main, after a period of defiance and negligence.
It might then be argued, in view of the low kill-rate from the Wuhan virus, despite its rapid and extreme contagion, that the Indian lockdown cannot be justified beyond 15 April. This, even as there is some doubt whether it can be sustained till then. The contagion will not be gone by 15 April but the question that is being asked is whether the prevention is proving more expensive than the cure. Thankfully, the government clarified this morning that reports in a section of the media that said it was planning to extend the lockdown were bogus. Let’s pray the idea does not prop-up in the coming fortnight if it hasn’t already.