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COVID-19: Is cautious optimism warranted?

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, optimism has been in short supply. The pandemic has leapt from one extreme to the other as countries across the globe have faced surging case counts and vast numbers of associated deaths. However, are the tides finally turning against the COVID-19 pandemic?

Novel coronavirus 2019 from Wuhan, China, named Covid-19. Epidemic danger prevention. Vaccine, treatment concept with masks, syringes and antibiotic pills and text in letter tiles. COVID-19 deaths concept. COVID-19 in India concept. COVID-19 infections illustration. Image credit: tenkende / 123rf
Image credit: tenkende / 123rf

Such a statement may be jumping the gun by a considerable margin, as the currently active case counts across the globe are still significant. India is still witnessing more than 50,000 cases per day, and so any suggestions that the pandemic is under control are far from the current observed reality. There are, however, a small number of optimistic observations that have occurred over the last few weeks. 

Experts have observed that a mutated strain of COVID-19, one that appears to be more easily able to infect individuals, may actually be beneficial. Paul Tambyah, senior consultant at the National University of Singapore and president-elect of the International Society of Infectious Diseases, has noted that evidence suggests the proliferation of the D614G mutation of the coronavirus in some nations has coincided with a drop in death rates. This would imply that while the mutated virus is able to infect people at a more rapid rate, the effects of the virus are lesser, leading to fewer deaths.

“Maybe that’s a good thing to have a virus that is more infectious but less deadly,” Tambyah told Reuters. “It is in the virus’ interest to infect more people but not to kill them because a virus depends on the host for food and for shelter.”

In India there has been a newfound cautious optimism arising from the number of asymptomatic COVID-19 cases occurring in the country. “A high rate of asymptomatic infection is a good thing. It is a good thing for the individual and a good thing for society,” said Monica Gandhi, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of California at San Francisco.

Others have commented to the same effect. “People in their 20s, 30s and 40s are increasingly driving the spread. Many are unaware they are infected,” Takeshi Kasai, Western Pacific regional director of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.

The Centre has acknowledged that despite a now burgeoning death count, the mortality rate compared to other countries is low. Having surpassed 50,000 deaths, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has commented regarding the issue. “[The] USA crossed 50,000 deaths in 23 days, Brazil in 95 days and Mexico in 141 days,” the Ministry said. “India took 156 days to reach this national figure.”

However, it must be stressed that while cautious optimism may be warranted, the COVID-19 crisis is far from over. While the Centre may stress their mortality rate is lower than other nations, more than 50,000 deaths is still a tragedy. Cautious optimism must not give way to complacency, and all efforts must be made to tackle the pandemic until the situation is well and truly under control.

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