T he 20th deadly pandemic – recorded in the human history - in the year 2020 has gripped the entire civilisation in horror, consternation and trepidation less known before to the younger generation. Novel Corona Virus, medically termed as COVID-19, has killed 6,069 lives worldwide [up till now] merely in four months since its outbreak in China in December last year. With this pace it has far surpassed two previous pandemics of the same Coronavirus category – MERS Coronavirus (since 2015 to present) which spread from bats and camels and has so far killed 850 people worldwide and SARS Coronavirus (from 2002 – 2003) spreading from bats and civets which killed 770 worldwide.

COVID-19 is closely getting in comparison to Ebolavirus in severity and death toll, which killed 11,000 humans in two years. Swine Flu H1N1 virus in 2009 – 2010 killed 2,00,000 people worldwide. Hong Kong Flu H3N2 virus killed one million people from 1968 – 1970. Asian Flu H2N2 killed 1.1 Million people in a year from 1957 – 1958. The worst among the category, Spanish Flu H1N1 virus killed forty to fifty million humans worldwide in 1918 – 1919. The first globally recognised pandemic Cholera killed one million people worldwide between 1817-1923. To date, the worst pandemic known and recorded in human history was in 1347 – 1351, known as Black Death, which killed two hundred million people worldwide in five years.

A detailed study of pandemics reveals the true-to-type trend of disease lasting a year to three with the maximum onslaught in the first nine to twelve months with an upside of a gradual reduction in death rate. A growing understanding of the disease, along with improvements in the healthcare sector also contributes effectively to attenuating the pandemic footprint. However, with COVID-19 being recent and new hence unpredictable to humankind with least preparations despite suffering at the hands of similar two categories previously; no one can say for sure if and when the vaccine would be ready. But pandemics have occurred before, and they do pass as they become contained over time.

One can safely say, the world should brace itself for COVID-19 for the next five to six months at least. With time, while vaccine development efforts would be ongoing at a rush, the disease discernment combined with herd immunity might stand in the way of the number of fatalities. A recent article in Guardian heralded the glad tiding of the prospect of a COVID-19 vaccine ready for human trial next month. It also tells about 35 companies and academic institutions racing to create such vaccine with four of them testing it on animals and the one produced by Boston based biotech firm ‘Moderna’ to enter human trials for COVID-19 vaccine in April this year. Thanks to China for sharing the genetic sequel of the virus. It has helped scientists to decode how the virus attacks the human body and how to contain it. However, according to medical experts, it won’t be until August or September that the novel Coronavirus pandemic can be seen releasing its clutches around the human throat.

Novel Coronavirus, on the one hand, has shaken the global scientific realm against human medical safety and on the other, asserted human belief in God. While the disease forced shut the prayer places around the globe, people still turned to God individually against the disease. This is a phenomenon not seen in the recent past against the pandemics of similar family. As a journal recently cited, in many ancient societies, people believed that spirits and gods inflicted disease and destruction upon those that deserved their wrath. This unscientific perception often led to disastrous responses that resulted in the deaths of thousands, if not millions.

In the case of Justinian’s plague, the Byzantine historian Procopius of Caesarea traced the origins of the plague (the Yersinia pestis bacteria) to China and northeast India, via land and sea trade routes to Egypt where it entered the Byzantine Empire through Mediterranean ports. Despite his apparent knowledge of the role geography and trade played in this spread, Procopius laid blame for the outbreak on the Emperor Justinian, declaring him to be either a devil, or invoking God’s punishment for his evil ways. Some historians found that this event could have dashed Emperor Justinian’s efforts to reunite the Western and Eastern remnants of the Roman Empire, and marked the beginning of the Dark Ages. Luckily, humanity’s understanding of the causes of disease has improved, and this is resulting in a drastic improvement in response to modern pandemics, albeit slow and incomplete.

Turning back to the modern age, while one may curse the era of social media for several reasons, it has proven to be a blessing during pandemics. While people are forced to self-distance from each other, social media is ensuring human connection stays alive. While the markets, bazaars, economic activities are shutting down, the digital age is somewhat keeping them running through online business and transactions. Any calamity – even if it takes something away from people, teaches us several other things in its own peculiar way and COVID-19 may not be different. It is taking away precious human lives but also teaching the humankind how to exercise more preparedness and unique ways of survival. Novel Coronavirus would certainly die down its biological death, it’s the humankind that has survived always and will survive till its day – but how the world fights against it and the lessons learnt will remain forever – even beyond the human life.

Gharidah Farooqi

The writer is a prominent talk show host. She currently hosts G For Gharidah on Aap News. She tweets @GFarooqi