Coronavirus has grabbed the whole world by its throat and has infected 466,836 people worldwide, so far. 21,152 people have lost their lives while battling this pandemic and this number is expected to rise in the near future.
The virus, which erupted from Wuhan, the capital of Chinese Hubei province, is mutating in itself and has now hundreds of variants. This should not be surprising as RNA-based viruses tend to mutate 100 times faster than DNA-based viruses. The good news is that the coronavirus is mutating at a much slower rate than other RNA-based viruses are are known to mutate.
The graphs below show the mutation of this virus from left to right. The initial strains started in purple in China and then they spread. Each time you see a branching on the left graph, that indicates a mutation leading to a slightly different variant of the virus.
While human testing of vaccines to combat the virus has already begun, it is expected to take between 12 – 18 months before a credible vaccine can be made available in the mass markets.
In the short-term, we have two options: mitigation and suppression.
Simply put, the mitigation strategy currently reads something like this: “It’s impossible to prevent the coronavirus from existing, so we don’t have another choice but to let it run its course, while trying to minimize the number of those infected.”
This is exactly what we witnessed in Pakistan in the weeks following the pandemic’s outbreak in the country: public engagements were curtailed, the maximum number of people allowed at gatherings was defined and hand-washing campaigns were started.
However, mitigation alone puts an enormous pressure on the already crippled healthcare sectors in countries such as Pakistan.
At the same time it is important to understand that people still need medical care for other diseases. If all the ICUs are filled with COVID-19 patients, where would a person who had a heart attack go? He’ll die – unattended.
Suppression, on the other hand is putting the whole country to a halt for a specific period of time. While this strategy can have a severe economic downside, in most cases there seems to be no other way to stop the rapid multiplier affect of the virus.
For most part, after experimenting with mitigation, Pakistan is quickly moving towards this model. Offices and educational institutes have been shut down, two people per household are being allowed to go out for essential shopping and markets are being closed out in totality before sundown.
While this strategy seems harsh, currently, it is the only solution that can buy us some time before a vaccine becomes available.
Hubei, the ground zero of COVID-19, has successfully contained the virus and is set to lift the lock-down protocols on 3rd of April, 2020.
The Chinese government achieved success in the province by strictly implementing suppression measures.
When you look at countries like South Korea and Singapore, they didn’t use any of these methods but were still able to contain the virus, how?
What these countries did was contact-tracing.
Whenever a person was tested positive for the virus, they traced her/his activities from the previous 21 days and came up with a list of people s/he came in contact with. They placed every single one of those prospective carriers in quarantine, hence quickly limiting the spread of the virus.
To a great level, a similar strategy has been adopted by the federal and provincial governments in Pakistan despite challenges owing to the country’s weak database and knowledge management systems.
With the virus evolving – even if its at a slower pace and even if each new strain does not seem significantly different from the previous one, the world needs to accept the “new normal” and support, rather than resist government measures to contain its spread.