TODAY -

Nothing spreads like fear

Kamal Baruah *



As humans spread across the world, infectious diseases have been a constant companion since hunter-gatherer days. Those Communicable diseases are being carried with agrarian life of humankind around 23000 years ago. Even in this modern era, outbreaks are nearly constant as human civilization witnessed deadly pandemics from the 165 AD Antonine Plague to Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19).

When an epidemic spreads beyond a country’s borders, then it becomes a pandemic. The course of history witnessed such epidemics that ravaged humanity through its existence. There have been a number of epidemics of diseases such as malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, leprosy, influenza, plagues and Smallpox.

Indigenous people of my state Assam never come across western medical science of Doctors and Surgeons until British Colonial Rule at late 18th century. The Brahmaputra valley was unhealthy for foreigners and great Mughal failed to conquer us in Saraighat War 1667 for inhospitable terrain.

Water borne disease like Asiatic cholera pandemic (1817-24) spread from the Bengal region of India across South East Asia to the Middle East, Europe and Eastern Africa through trade routes with a death toll of millions of people.

Between 1892 and 1940, over 25 million people died of plague and cholera in India that instilled fear to our ancestors. The villagers were afraid of return home where so many died after affecting contagious disease. The practice of quarantine had never thought in the past as life stopped by fear and death.

I now realised from the tagline “Nothing spreads like fear” after watching a movie at home last Sunday during Janta Curfew amid growing signs of a possible Covid-19 outbreak around the world. It is “Contagion”, a 2011 American movie. The plot concerns the rapid spread of a virus transmitted by fomites that carries infection through clothes, utensils and furniture.

There is huge loss of social order in a pandemic and medical researcher, public health officials attempted to identify and contain the disease. Finally a vaccine is introduced to halt its spread. The medical thriller probably inspired by pandemics such as the 2004-04 SARS outbreak and 2009 Swine Flu (200K deaths) pandemic.

One of the most devastating pandemics was the Black Death, which killed an estimated 200 million people in Eurasia during 1347-1351. Many decades later Spanish Flu 1918-20 infected 500M people with 50M casualties making it one of the deadliest epidemics in 20th century of human history.

Beside the world witnessed 1957 Asian flu (2M deaths), 1968-69 Hong Kong flu (1M), SARS 2002-03 (70), Ebola 2014-16 (11.3k) and Mers 2015 (850). Nine years later, the film now received renewed attention today as well as viewership for ongoing 2019–20 coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

India goes into 21 days lockdown as coronavirus spreads. This writer being a banker moves for his call to the nation. Caring Masks and sanitizer are the order of the day for those essential service personnel.

Those worst devastations dating from prehistoric to modern times have ravaged humanity and sometimes ended civilizations. In the face of the persistence of disease and pandemics throughout history, a gradual reduction in the death rate is possible due to improvement of healthcare and understanding of the causes of disease.

But urbanization and ease of air travel made a profound impact on the spread of infectious disease in today’s world. The practice of social distancing could help to reduce the rate of infection. It’s time for people to go digital to connect the world from commerce to social media connectivity.

Schools are taking initiative to teach student digitally at home now. India is to address the shortage of doctors, nurses and paramedics along with ICUs and hospitals for 1.3 billion people.

Covid-19 could cost global economy in $ trillions and affect billions of people. The world community blame China for mishandling the outbreak. Are United States heading into a new Cold War with China? Dissolution of Russia in 1991 ended geopolitical tension of Cold War with US allies.

Communist China embraced capitalism and expands its economic and diplomatic reach after its founder Mao Zedong in 1976 and they now expected to overtake US economy by 2030 that caused concern to Uncle Sam for the battle of global dominance for trade, military and diplomacy.

Donald Trump has long complained about the trade deficit with China and kicked off a trade war by placing high tariffs on Chinese goods. The presence of US deployed THAAD missile in South Korea in 2017 saw military confrontation of both nuclear warhead countries.

China is the largest trading partner for many countries across the world, including major US allies like Australia, Japan and New Zealand. US even lobbied hard to stop allies countries from using Huawei 5G over alleged security concerns.

Should US cooperate with China for humanity? China is trolling the world and avoiding blame aftermath of Covid-19. The evidence of China’s deliberate cover-up of the potentially devastating outbreak is a matter of public record which allowed spreading unchecked 198 countries affecting five hundreds thousands cases for more than 22K deaths.

Italy, US, Spain, Germany, Iran, France are suffered the most at the moment. China has a history of mishandling outbreaks SARS during 2002-03. They act decisively, not against the virus but against whistle blower Li Wenliang a Chinese ophthalmologist who died from the virus in February this year.

The virus allowed spreading across the globe as the Wuhan city went to lockdown on Jan 23, seven weeks after the virus first appeared.

The sheer scale of destruction becomes clear in coming days. Should Chinese regime go a responsible global actor after this pandemic in the future?

“Don’t talk to anyone, don’t touch anyone” I cowered in fear as dialogues in that Hollywood thriller whizzed past from the TV screen.


* Kamal Baruah wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer is a former Air Warrior and currently working for SBI Dispur. He can be reached at kamal(DOT)baruah(AT)yahoo(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on March 31, 2020.



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