Whether people of the world will have to learn to live with the virus?

As India and many parts of the world seem to be engulfed by the second or third wave of the Coronavirus epidemic – which is more dangerous and has appeared with new symptoms – this idea is being pushed from different quarters.  Newspaper articles or surveys or studies have appeared in different publications which seem to be pushing this narrative.

Sample conclusions of a study done jointly by Emory and Penn State University which say “One year after its emergence, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has become so widespread that there is little hope of elimination.” This appeared in an article in USA Today ( February 17).(https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2021/04/02/ende-a02.html). A famous journal Nature also shared a survey which talked to Scientists and around 90 per cent of the Scientists polled talked of how Covid is likely to be endemic in pockets of the global population.(-)

Prof Randeep Guleria, the pulmonologist and Director of Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), also talked about it in his Express Adda interaction and said that the country would continue to have waves and ‘pandemic would now be more like an endemic, which involves a series of localised disease outbreaks.'(https://www.financialexpress.com/lifestyle/health/covid-19-waves-will-recur-treatment-options-need-to-be-priority-randeep-guleria-director-aiims-delhi/2225749/)

No doubt there is merit in this argument and one cannot just reject it at face value and policy makers would need to deliberate on the future trajectory of this disease and will have to figure in the possibility of its becoming ‘endemic’ before planning for future but raising this debate at this juncture could be seen as an attempt to evade many questions and avoid difficult answers.

The first and foremost seems to be to impress upon people that public health as well as science are not in a position to prevent the spread of the disease.

It could also be construed as a ruse to cover up the emergent vaccince apartheid in the world where rich countries seem to have stocked up vaccine stocks for their population which can suffice many more similar campaigns of vaccination and more than half of the world yet to get any vaccine at all.

It also tends to hide the crude fact about ruling dispensations own failures in managing and containing the pandemic, its resort to unscientific claims to cover up its own shortcomings and the great hiatus between what it had been claiming about the pandemic and situation on the ground.

As far as distribution of vaccines is concerned things have reached such  a dangerous level that even the WHO had to issue a warning to the people :

“The inequitable distribution of vaccines is not just a moral outrage, it’s also economically and epidemiologically self-defeating. Some countries are racing to vaccinate their entire populations while other countries have nothing. This may buy short-term security, but it is a false sense of security.”

As of now the situation is such that while many of the world’s richest countries have widened the ambit of vaccination of their citizens to include every adult we have before us many poor countries who have not even been able to innoculate any of its citizens. (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/30/coronavirus-vaccine-distribution-global-disparity) Although it was planned that around 90 Million would be distributed to poor countries through Covax – the global alliance to distribute vaccine to poorer countries – but the sudden remergence of Covid pandemic and the rising cases in Europe and slow pace of vaccination there has made the situation worse.

Activists have termed this skewed distribution of vaccines as ‘Vaccine Apartheid’.

In fact as early as January 2021 focussing themselves on the contrast between the rich and poorer countries , researchers had even predicted that with the existing arrangements in place ‘Most developing countries will not have widespread access to the shots before 2023 at the earliest.'(https://www.eiu.com/n/85-poor-countries-will-not-have-access-to-coronavirus-vaccines/)

We can recall how health activists and similar socially concerned people/formations had foreseen the unfolding situation and had demanded from the pharmaceutical companies to share the know how of the vaccine and also called for suitable changes in the Intellectual Property Laws to that manufacture of Covid 19 vaccines can be spread globally.

Last year in October South Africa and India – called as pharmacy of the world – had even sent a joint letter demanding waiver from certain provisions of the Trips Agreement for the Prevention, Containment and Treatment of Covid 19. (https://docs.wto.org/dol2fe/Pages/SS/directdoc.aspx?filename=q:/IP/C/W669.pdf&Open=True). As per the Trips agreement signed in 1995, the member states have to recognise monopoly of patents for pharmaceuticals including vaccines. It is a different matter that it was not done, no relaxations were provided.

It does not appear surprising that the more this narrative about living with virus catches on it can also cover up any comparative discussion about different ruling dispensations and why despite similar overall situation one witnessed lesser fatalities than the other.  (https://thewire.in/health/health-spending-covid-19-and-desired-outcomes ; https://thewire.in/political-economy/covid-19-in-south-asia-india-lags-behind-pak-on-stimulus-lanka-on-overall-performance)

We have before us the case of India which was patting itself on the back for its effective handling of Covid 19 pandemic few months into the pandemic and which is suddenly finding itself in the vortex of rising cases and there is strong possibility of its becoming Global Hotspot following US and Brazil. Here cases have already shot up more than 1.6 lakh on a daily basis and where in many of the worst affected regions the covid wave seems to overwhelm the healthcare system. It is a manifestation of this worsening crisis that Gujarat Highcourt recently took suo moto cognizance of surge in Covid cases in the state declaring that the state faces ‘health emergency of sorts’.

As we write these lines the Kumbh Mela is going on with full abandon in Haridwar with scant regard by people of Covid appropriate behaviour – which is impossible to maintain in such a massive gathering – with new 300 cases of Covid infection recently reported in a day. We can remind ourselves how objections by a section of the bureaucrats about the possibility of such a large gathering acting as super spreader of the infection were overruled by the UttaraKhand government with a claim by the Chief Minister of the state that the ‘faith in God will overcome the fear of the virus.’The irony of the claim was not lost on the people as the Chief Minister of the State who made this spacious claim himself was found to be Covid Positive later.

What was worrisome that the ruling dispensation at the centre – which was already in the know of religious gatherings acting as superspreaders – did not deem it necessary to intervene as it could have found itself on the defensive from its own radical sections – but more importantly it was itself was busy with elections for few state assemblies and its leaders were found to be themselves holding election rallies and holding meetings with scant regard for Covid appropriate behaviour.

The result is for everywhere to see.

States going to polls have witnessed 300 per cent spike in two weeks.(https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/assembly-polls-378-covid-spike-in-bengal-other-states-not-far-behind-2411665?pfrom=home-ndtv_topscroll)

Well in such an ambience perhaps people can have solace in the fact that now they will have to live with the virus.

A New Nirvana for our times.

Subhash Gatade is a political commentator


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