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Saturday, 13 April 2024
COVID’s Mirror on Humanity
James Denseiow

Over half a year into the Coronavirus crisis and there is much we now know and much that alludes us as to what is this deadly contagion that has caused so much chaos for so many of us. Back in 2002 then US-Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, famously said that when it came to Iraqi weapons of mass destruction there were “known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don't know we don't know”.

Jean-Francois Delfraissy, a specialist helping France with its COVID-19 response, described the virus as “devious”. Many of the world’s most developed health systems had been preparing for a influenza pandemic, instead we have a Coronavirus but one unlike those that have previously wracked SE Asia and the Middle East.

The New York Times Health Correspondent updated readers to several significant new pieces of information about the virus which shine a new light on the enormity of the challenge in tackling it. Indeed, the new, or at least more reliable, pieces of information show how COVID is strong because it relies on fundamental principles of human behaviour to flourish.

The most significant new piece of knowledge about COVID is that it seems able to be transmitted in the air, not solely through heavy water droplets from people coughing or sneezing. This is a threat indoors and in workplaces where there is not large social distancing and explains the numerous outbreaks in food processing plants.

The second trend that data is exposing is for the high numbers of asymptomatic carriers, potentially as high as 50% of those infected. People showing no symptoms who could infect others simply by talking to them highlights the danger of the disease. Human beings are social creatures and social distancing, whilst logical, goes counter to the way in which we interact as a species.

As does touch, but again the ability of COVID to transmit through contact, particularly the hands, means that handshakes are off limits and according to the guidelines of many countries so is hugging outside of close family. Grandparents unable to hug their new-born grandchildren is one of the infinite numbers of repercussion ripples that have been sent out by pandemic.

Human beings who have to be wary of talking to and touching other human beings are likely to seriously alter the way they live their lives. Whilst at the seeming peak of the Pandemic so far countries largely shut down international travel, today we’re left with big questions as to how confident travellers will be to be on confined spaces for long periods of time. Some of the central tenants of globalisation, of supply chains, of tourism and of interconnected societies are being challenged by the virus.

Another way in which is COVID is proving uniquely challenging to humanity is in its end point. People may presume that a vaccine will be discovered and there is certainly hope in many of the trials that are ongoing. Yet there has never been a vaccine for a coronavirus before and other deadly diseases like AIDS have claimed millions of lives without an effective cure being found. More recent findings on COVID have revealed that immunity for those who’ve had the disease may be limited, with antibodies not lasting beyond a period of months. This means the prospect of ‘immunity passports’ is unlikely, and reinfection is a real risk, with those who are elderly or with comorbidities at particular risk.

US President Trump reminded Americans that 99% of those who get COVID survive, whilst this is statistically the case a virus that takes 1% of the world’s population is surely enough of a terrifying prospect to take urgent and dramatic action. What is less well known is the continued health impacts on those people who’ve recovered from COVID. As the virus is seemingly a vascular disease its ability to effect organs across the body means that the scale of damage for the 99% of those who survive it is one of the ‘known unknowns’.

Not only does Covid-19 damage the lungs, heart and kidneys, it can also cause severe brain damage – with patients suffering neurological conditions including paranoia and hallucinations, a British scientific study has revealed in the journal “Brain”. Whilst countries are still struggling to code the COVID caused death correctly, the prospect of it wreaking havoc in other organs and particularly the brain is a terrifying prospect indeed.

There has been much talk to date as to how the world can ‘build back better’ from COVID in terms of sustainable economies, tackling climate change and air pollution, inequality, poverty, racism and more. Yet the long term challenge of the disease is how it impacts on each individual and how they interact with others and the world around them.

by : jamse danselow