Empire Diaries Desk
May 14, 2020, New Delhi: After five months, most countries that enforced various degrees of #coronavirus #lockdown measures and #socialdistancing rules have started gingerly reopening their economies. Much of Western Europe and many US states have opened up sections of their economies. India, too, among many Asian countries, including China, has started to lift curbs.
Irrespective of whether one supports a #lockdown or not, the move to end it completely poses a potential threat to the human race: a possible second wave of the #Covid19 #pandemic. Ending shutdowns is direly necessary for fragile economies like that of India. But as governments are trying to breathe life into the system, they have to keep an eye on history as well.
1918 FLU: DEADLY SECOND WAVE
This pandemic is in many ways similar to the #1918flu pandemic (wrongly referred to as #SpanishFlu). The 1918 pandemic swept the world in three waves, claiming an estimated 50 million to 100 million lives. And it was the second wave that was the deadliest of the three.
Fast forward to 2020. As we are steadily relaxing curbs, it appears that we, too, could possibly be facing a second wave of Covid-19.
We don’t know it for sure, though. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the world’s top Centers for Disease Control (CDCs) haven’t directly said that a second wave has begun. The WHO’s emergencies director, Mike Ryan, has only said that the #SarsCov2 coronavirus is here to stay for good, quite like the #HIV pathogen.
But a sharp resurgence in infections can already be seen in some countries, raising the spectacle of a second wave. Let’s look at what’s happening in China, Germany, Hong Kong, and South Korea, countries that had domestically brought the virus under some sort of control.
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On May 5, the head of Germany’s national centre for disease control sent out a warning, saying the ‘second wave’ of Covid-19 has already begun. Lothar Wieler, who heads the Robert Koch Institute, also assured the public that the Angela Merkel administration is well-prepared to tackle a second wave.
In China, too, the storm has not passed. On April 8, a lockdown in Wuhan was lifted completely because the country had been reporting negligible cases for weeks. But over the past weekend, Wuhan reported a new cluster of cases. That was followed by a sharp spike in infections in other parts of the country, especially in the northeastern city of Jilin, in Jilin province. It has become China’s new hot spot and partial lockdown measures are back in place in Jilin.
A similar trend is being reported in South Korea. After the country lifted several curbs to help power up the economy, more than 100 new cases were reported in a few days’ time. Many of them were linked to Seoul’s popular nightclub district of Itaewon. Authorities sparked a controversy by saying they are tracking mobile phones of people in order to trace those who had been visited the nightclubs. Some critics of the government warned that the district is a popular hangout for gay people and authorities shouldn’t end up treating them too harshly.
Hong Kong has experienced an unexpected return of cases, and the resurgence is being attributed to a mystery case. The Chinese-controlled autonomous region’s 23-day-long spell without a single Covid-19 case or death was broken this week when a 66-year-old woman tested positive. The fact that the patient had no travel history has made the Carrie Lam administration sit up and take note.
Experts are predicting a similar trend for India. Having reported close to 79,000 cases already, India is all set to overtake China in terms of number of infections in another day’s time. Even as the country begins to slowly open up the economy – much to the relief of a lot of people under extreme financial distress due to a lockdown – a second wave is imminent, some people say. According to a recent news report, Rajesh Sundaresan, professor at Bengaluru’s IISc, fears that a return to normalcy is likely to be followed by a sudden spike in infections across the country.
It will be interesting to take a look at a study that was published in the Lancet journal in April. The extract of the study, titled ‘Beware of the second wave of Covid-19’ highlighted the “consequences of premature relaxation of interventions, and found that such a decision might lead to… a second wave of infections.”
Governments and the public enter uncharted waters over the next few days, juggling the relaxation of curbs with responsible measures. Only time will tell us if this pathogen has the firepower to strike back at us like it had happened in 1918.
“The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind” – as Bob Dylan’s timeless classic says.