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#StayAtHome – A World in Union

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‘Unity is what’s needed to fight the Coronavirus pandemic’

Dr Iqbal Survé, in his capacity as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Global Influenza Surveillance Initiative (GISAID), says unity is what’s needed to fight the Coronavirus pandemic. (This is part one of a three-part article)

An unseen and invisible enemy has brought about a profound change in the way we humans view, what we call, life. 

In our usual world, race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, culture, religion, wealth or poverty status, and even age, are often used to discriminate against people who are different – to us. This is even more prevalent since the dawning of the ‘follow-me’ era of social media, where people follow those with similar likes and interests, eschewing those who don’t fit the bill.

But, in a world currently dominated by Covid-19, there is no place for our foibles because Covid-19 does not discriminate. Having already crossed from animals into humans, Covid-19 sees no differences and needs no-one to follow it, but it will surely follow, YOU.

A previously unknown betacoronavirus (hCoV-19), Covid-19 was first detected in China and reported on in December 2019. It is a virus that attacks the respiratory system in human beings and has been linked to originating from bats and pangolins. Experts confirm the virus is not a living organism. “It is a protein molecule (DNA) covered by a lipid (fat) protective layer, which, when absorbed by the cells of the ocular, nasal or buccal mucosa, changes its genetic code, (mutation), and it turns into aggressor and multiplier cells.” (John Hopkins University).

At the time of writing, there are well over half a million people around the world, who have been infected with the disease. Data modelling suggests we may well hit the million mark very soon. This, therefore, is just the beginning.

The lockdown South Africans and many other nations across the world are undergoing, is vital to stem the rapid spread of the disease. It is not going to eradicate it but rather slow it down, to allow science to better understand it and develop the tools to fight it and give healthcare systems the opportunities to deal with the casualties.

As frightening as this current reality is and should be – for all of us –there are a number of silver innings to this dark cloud. One is the level of collaboration and innovation we are seeing across the world – whether this is to find solutions to this Coronavirus, or people and businesses coming together to help each other in our human hour of need. Another is cessation of hostilities between warring parties across the globe. Long may the peace last. 

The planet is appreciating a pollution ceasefire too, with the closing down of many industries, giving our earth an opportunity to recover a little. Perhaps it also gives us the chance to consider the effect we, as humans, have on this earth a little more deeply and to alter our behaviours in a post Covid-19 world. At least, I hope so. 

That could be a while yet, because our understanding of Coronavirus is still evolving. But there is hope. hCoV-19 data from GISAID, exclusively enables real-time analyses tools such as CoVSurver or NextCoV for scientists and researchers to get the best information as to how to combat the pandemic. 

Much of the containment measures we are implementing now, are modelled on China’s stringent and effective prevention and control plan. The Chinese government, by placing a high priority on the prevention and control of the COVID-19 outbreak,interrupted the chains of transmission of the virus, nationwide.

What made this so effective,were stringent measures that were context specific and dependent on the infection rate in each area. What we have all come to know as ‘social distancing’ and quarantining were implemented at grassroots level. Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, and neighbouring cities in the Hubei province, were shut down and 50 million people have been under mandatory quarantine since the 23rd of January.

China also made use of technology like artificial intelligence, which they deployed to trace those who had come into contact with infected persons.Mobile apps such as WeChat and Alipay were successful at allowing government to track and stop confirmed infections from travelling. Colour codes on mobile phones, much like that of a traffic light, allowed guards to allow or deny entry into train stations and other checkpoints. Israel too, has seen excellent results from its government’s mandatory tracking of all citizens.

The potential strain on the health care system was also controlled by the government making a number of crucial decisions. Firstly, health care workers from across the country were mobilised and sent to outbreak centres. Secondly, the government reportedly built two hospitals dedicated to COVD-19 cases in just over a week in Wuhan. This bold and rapid response to a crisis ensured that the general health care system was not overburdened, and resources were accessible to those that required it the most. South Africa needs this same approach, if it has a hope of containing the disease. The same can be said of Africa as a whole. 

What we need right now is true unity. United in our vision for a Covid-19 free world. That means adapting our behaviour to follow the rules that have been set down for our safety – stay at home. Continue contributions to funds and donation portals to mitigate loss of income and provide for those who have nothing. Look after our animals and our environments. Everyone in this country is our collective responsibility right now. 

We also require government to act decisively, waive the red tape and get the job done.

More information on the spread of Covid-19, can be found through the GISAID Initiative, a private-public organisation that promotes the international sharing of all influenza virus sequences related clinical and epidemiological data associated with human viruses, from around the world. It uses Big Data analytics (among other tools) to analyse copious amounts of real time information for scientists to better understand the behaviours of viruses, like Covid-19. 

www.gisaid.org