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Panic In The Wake Of A Pandemic!

In his 2011 thriller movie Contagion, American filmmaker Steven Andrew Soderbergh showed that a hypothetical infectious virus was all set to destroy the US, as well as the world! One can find an uncanny similarity between the film and the contemporary world after the outbreak of Coronavirus!
In Contagion, Beth Emhoff – the role played by Gwyneth Paltrow – died of an unknown illness on the outskirts of Minneapolis after her return from Hong Kong. Her death triggered the spread of the unknown virus infection throughout the US! The Home Security officials initially thought that the death was an effect of chemical weapon, which was used to terrorise the US. So, the concerned authorities quarantined entire Chicago!
The worldwide death toll from the Coronavirus pandemic surged past 19,753 on March 25 with the total number of cases rising to more than 440,359, as the infection continues to prompt 115 countries to take unprecedented measures to help stave off a global health crisis. The spread has also forced many countries to postpone major global events for an indefinite period.

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There are various mathematical models regarding the underlying mechanism of the spread of a pandemic. The ratio between healthy people getting infected, their recovery to death is important in case of any pandemic. The Basic Reproduction Number (BRN) of an infection, which can be thought of as the expected number of cases directly generated by one case in a population where all individuals are susceptible to infection, helps experts monitor the overall situation. The higher the BRN, the faster the pandemic spreads… therefore, it is important to isolate the affected people in order to lower the BRN!
The BRN of the unknown virus was 4 in Soderbergh’s film. In other words, one out of every 12 people on the planet had a chance to get infected with the virus, and the possibility of death (among the infected people) was 25-40%. It was also shown in the film that there was an increase in the number of work from home because of the virus, while there was a decrease in social connection. In a flashback, Soderbergh showed that days before Beth was infected in Hong Kong, a bulldozer had knocked down a tree, disturbing some bats. One flew over a sty and dropped a piece of banana, which was eaten by a pig. The pigs were slaughtered and prepared by a chef who shook hands with Beth in the casino, transferring the virus to her and making her the Patient Zero! There, the imaginary MEV-1 virus was actually a combination of genes of pigs and bats. Perhaps, the Nipah Virus might have encouraged Soderbergh to make the film.

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The Indian PM’s message

The deadliest epidemic of flu virus in human history rocked the world a century ago… the Spanish Flu in 1918. It had affected one-third of the Global population and claimed nearly 50,000,000 lives… more than the people killed in two World Wars! The BRN of the Spanish Flu was 2-3… and, it is 2.2-3.9 in case of Coronavirus. The mortality rate of the Spanish Flu (2.5%) was almost the same as of Coronavirus (2.3%). Whether the impacts of the two would also be the same? Perhaps, the answer is No, as the world has changed a lot in the last 100 years…
The Global Community has experienced many endemics in the last two decades. Except the BRN of the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) Flu (0.3-0.8), the BRNs of other flues were very high. While the BRN of the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) was 2-4 in 2002-03, the BRN of the Ebola pandemic was 1.5-2.5 in 2013-16, and of Nipah pandemic was 4.7 in 2018. So, the Global Community can control the BRN of the Coronavirus.
On the other hand, the mortality rate of the Swine Flu-affected people was very low (0.01-0.03%). However, it was high among people affected by other flues. It was 10% in case of SARS, 39% in case of MERS, 50% in case of Ebola and 50-75% in case of Nipah. Nearly 8,098 people were infected by SARS and 774 of them died. Meanwhile, Nipah affected 11-21% of the Global Population and claimed around 575,000 lives. As far as Ebola was concerned, 28,000 people were affected and more than 11,000 of them died of the flu. Perhaps, this comparison would help us realise that the impact of Coronavirus endemic would be much lesser.

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Still, an unprecedented panic has grasped the entire world! There is a shortage of masks, hand sanitisers, medical staff and place to quarantine in each and every country. Many developed countries have felt left out and shocked during this crisis-period. Of course, there are exceptions, like Singapore. While SARS had claimed 33 lives in Singapore, Swine Flu had affected nearly 400,000 people there. However, precautionary measures have helped the island city-state keep the number of Coronavirus-affected people under 200!
The antidote of the virus was discovered quickly in Contagion. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (of the US) had started distributing the antidote through lottery based on date of birth. In his film, Soderbergh showed that the virus had already killed 26,000,000 people, globally. And, the death toll touched 2,500,000 in the US alone! However, it is not a common scenario, as it takes time to discover the antidote of a deadly virus.

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The outbreak of Coronavirus proves that the Global Community is not prepared to face such a dangerous situation. Right now, it is difficult to predict the long-term impact of the outbreak. Experts have opined that India’s GDP might decrease by 1% due to the Coronavirus! We will certainly be able to control this particular virus. However, one should remember that getting prepared for an inevitable crisis is called Civilisation

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