Corona Everywhere: What is the big deal?

Infectious Disease, Forced Publicity, WHO

1. Why only coronavirus?

For the last few months, all newspapers, TV channels, politicians, medical professionals, national and international institutions, in fact, for that matter everyone who matters, have been relentlessly talking about only coronavirus or COVID19. Yes, I say everyone who matters. Others are forced to talk about corona. It is like thinking someone else’ thoughts. I wonder why so. There are many more bacterial or viral infectious diseases that impact and kill many more people throughout the world. To illustrate this point let us look at some facts.

According to WHO website, a total of 1.5 million people died from tuberculosis (TB), a bacterial disease, in 2018 in the world. Worldwide, TB is one of the top 10 causes of death and the leading cause from a single infectious agent. In the same year, an estimated 10 million people fell ill with (TB) worldwide. 5.7 million men, 3.2 million women and 1.1 million children. There were cases in all countries and age groups. But TB is curable and preventable.

The World Health Organization also says that while effective treatment and vaccines exist against viral hepatitis, 325 million people, or roughly 4% of the world's population, live with viral hepatitis, and the disease causes 1.34 million deaths per year. That number is comparable to HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria.

The current worldwide estimated number of cases of Influenza is 1 billion, and estimated deaths due to it is between 291,000 and 646,000.

The story is no different in our own country, India. In 2018, 2.74 million people became ill from TB, and 4,10,000 died from it. There were about 4,30,000 cases of cholera, 1,44,000 cases of hepatitis and 13.2 million cases of diarrhoea.

Any discerning reader can easily see that the number of people suffering or dying from TB, hepatitis, influenza, malaria, and diarrhoea is many times more that those impacted by coronavirus.

So, is it because WHO declared this as a pandemic, or is it because it is new, or is there more to it than what is being claimed?

In a short note, we document that it is only 15 – 17 countries, mostly very rich, that account for about 84% of all the infections in the world. For other countries, containing about 43% of the world’s population, corona has not spread significantly. Even within a country like India, everyone’s exposure to corona is not the same.

We borrow and reproduce a chart below from an article that appeared in on 19 May 2020. The chart represents the estimated deaths due to some select non-covid19 diseases during end-January to end-April 2020. Clearly, the number of deaths due to these causes would have crossed 500, 000 during the three-month (early) lockdown period – several times more than that due to corona virus. The total number of deaths due to corona in the entire country stands at only 3867 today.


2. Why declare every infection, quarantine, hospitalization, or death?

Crores of people in India have been going through extreme economic, social, and emotional hardship ever since the lockdown was declared with a lot of fanfare. Their plights have been reported by some sections of the media. You can ‘stay at home’ only if you have a home. You can ‘work from home’ only if you have a home and work. You can ‘wash your hands’, even once, only if you have the means to afford a soap and water. You can maintain ‘social distancing’only if you have enough space to do so, not when half a dozen people must share a 10-foot by 10-foot room. You can ‘consult a doctor’ only if you have access and wherewithal to do so, and not when you are locked away from the ‘civilization’. At least 30 crore people in India cannot do whatever prescriptions are being bombarded by the cheerleaders. It simply does not work that way. Period. This is why, you see thousands of individuals and NGOs are in action. Without their active participation in feeding crores of people, India would have experienced catastrophic number of hunger deaths.

The experts, engaged in virus investigations, would find a vaccine sooner than later and could also find a cure for this new corona virus. This virus, like many other viruses and bacteria, is going to stay with us, in all probability. The current data show that the mortality rate due to this new virus is about 2%-3%, much less than that due to some other existing diseases. It is also possible that many of us were infected by it and recovered, without even knowing so. So, this artificially created panic and drama is completely unnecessary.

Why is every case of corona infection, quarantine, hospitalization, or death being reported with such fanfare? Is it necessary? I do not think so. This minute-by-minute reporting has caused immense distress and panic to a vast majority of the population, rich or poor. This should have been quietly handled through efficient management and necessary augmentation of the healthcare system. This is not the time for optics, dramatic announcements, bragging or taking credits. This is not the time to do ‘research’. It is time for action. Action here and now is ‘research’. Be sensible.

  • Malay Bhattacharyya
    Malay Bhattacharyya is Professor of Decision Sciences, Indian Institute of Management Bangalore. His research interests include Quantitative Finance, Time Series and Extreme Value Theory.




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