By Ifeanyi Nwoko
Unarguably, the new coronavirus (COVID-19) remains the most dreaded ailment that has affected mankind in recent time, in view on its effects on all spheres of life.
From healthcare to aviation, oil prices, the stock market, tourism and sports, the virus seems to be crumbling everything on its path.
In the sports sector, many leagues have been suspended: The English Premier, the Spanish Serie A, the Basketball League (NBA), many other sporting events and in Nigeria the National Sports Festival.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), defines COVID-19, as pneumonia of unknown cause, detected in Wuhan, China, first reported to the WHO Country Office in China on Dec.31, 2019.
It says it is from a large family of viruses that cause illness, ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases, such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).
They are transmitted between animals and people, and common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.
In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
According to data from WHO, it has spread to over 100 countries, with China, Iran, South Korea, and Europe worst hit, with confirmed number of infected people put at over 179,000, and over 7,400 recorded deaths, with new cases put at over 11,000.
Even the elite and presidents of nations were not spared, with the Canadian prime minister quarantined after wife tested positive, Brazilian president infected, Iranian vice president and even prominent sportsmen, including Arsenal’s Coach Mikel Arteta.
COVID-19 has also taken a heavy toll on Iran, Italy, Spain, the whole of Europe and even the United States of America, which has recorded cases in all 50 states.
But in all of these, Antarctica, the 5th biggest continent in the globe has been so far spared.
With a geographic size of 14million square kilometres and population of barely over 1,000, mainly researchers, the continent may yet remain the only one to be saved.
Although many analogy point to the hypothesis that COVID-19 thrive better in cold regions, Antarctica with a temperature of about 89 degrees, haven’t experienced rainfall in over 2 million years, but yet have 80 per cent of the world’s fresh water reserves, stored as 100cm thick ice and enough to raise global sea levels by 100 feet.
On the economic front, many countries and markets are taking big hits with stock markets dwindling uncontrollably, production industries almost halted, the mega sports sector almost on a standstill and the oil market not also spared.
With industries, production and distribution lines as well as other sectors slowing down, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) forecasts that the global economy will lose US$1 trillion in 2020.
In Africa, where 25 countries are confirmed to have over 200 cases and four deaths so far, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), warns that the pandemic could seriously dent Africa’s already stagnant economic growth.
The UN body said that this would manifest with oil exporting nations losing up to US$ $65 billion in revenues as crude oil prices continue to tumble.
“Africa may lose half of its GDP with growth falling from 3.2 per cent to about 2 per cent due to a number of reasons.
“They include the disruption of global supply chains,” she said.
She added that the continent’s interconnectedness to affected economies of the EU, China and United States was already causing ripple effects.
As a way of curtailing the spread of the virus in the continent, she advised that Africa needed US$10 billion investment in the health sector.
The ECA estimates COVID-19 could lead to Africa’s export revenues from fuels falling at around US$ 101 billion in 2020.
“Furthermore, negative consequences are expected to worsen if COVID-19 develops into an outbreak in Africa.
“In addition, a decline in commodity prices could lead to fiscal pressures for Africa’s economic power houses such as Nigeria, South Africa, Algeria, Egypt and Angola,” she said.
Although the virus has no known cure or vaccine yet, it is not all doom: the virus is by far not the worst to have been overcome by mankind both in terms of pattern, number and speed of infections as well as mortality or survival rates.
According to available statistics, it is no worse that tuberculosis which infects eight million people and kills two million of them every year, or measles which has killed over 200 million people worldwide in the last 150 years.
It is still not comparable to smallpox(16th to 18th century), which is recorded to have killed between 300 million to 500m people in the 20th century, nor to Spanish flu of 1918 to 1920, which infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims.
Based on statistics, COVID-19 has not killed or infected as much as malaria which affects over 300 million every year, or cholera which is said to have killed tens of millions and the Black Death of 1331 to 1358, said to have killed 75 million people.
The statistics however does not serve to make comfortable as the COVID-19 is still a very great threat to the world as at now.
But the WHO assures that through coordinated efforts, the widespread of the virus would be surmounted even as laboratories in many countries race to find a cure and a vaccine.
WHO which is leading and coordinating response across the globe advises world citizens to stay away from persons who are coughing or sneezing, while appealing to those who fell sick to self-isolate and report the symptoms.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, described the death of over 5,000 and infection of over 100,000 others as a tragic milestone.
“Europe has now become the epicentre of the pandemic, with more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China.
“More cases are now being reported every day than were reported in China at the height of its epidemic.
“We are encouraged that many countries are now acting on the eight pillars of WHO’s Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan.
“Most countries now have a national plan; most are taking a multi-sectorial approach and most have laboratory testing capacity.
“And we are continuing to support countries to prepare and respond.
“We have shipped supplies of personal protective/equipment to 56 countries, we are shipping to a further 28 countries, and we have sent almost 1.5 million diagnostic tests to 120 countries.
“Our message to countries continues to be: you must take a comprehensive approach.
“Not testing alone. Not contact tracing alone. Not quarantine alone. Not social distancing alone. Do it all.
“Any country that looks at the experience of other countries with large epidemics and thinks “that won’t happen to us” is making a deadly mistake. It can happen to any country,’’ he said.
Ghebreyesus said the experience of China, the Republic of Korea, Singapore and others clearly demonstrated that aggressive testing and contact tracing, combined with social distancing measures and community mobilisation could prevent infections and save lives.
As the race to the cure continues and more people showing to be recovering from the virus, the WHO has also issued directives to national governments.
“First, prepare and be ready and every person must know the signs and symptoms and how to protect themselves and others.
“Every health worker should be able to recognise this disease, provide care and know what to do with their patients.
“Every health facility should be ready to cope with large numbers of patients, and ensure the safety of staff and patients.
“Second, detect, protect and treat. You cannot fight a virus if you do not know where it is. Find, isolate, test and treat every case, to break the chains of transmission.
“Every case we find and treat limits the expansion of the disease.
“Do not just let this fire burn. Isolate the sick and quarantine their contacts. In addition, measures that increase social distancing such as cancelling sporting events may help to reduce transmission.
“These measures, of course, should be based on local context and risk assessment, and should be time-limited.
“Even if you cannot stop transmission, you can slow it down and save lives,’’ the world health body said.
The health body is not alone in calling for a concerted effort to check the spread of the virus, as a health expert, Dr Ogungbemi Olalekan, stresses that citizens must play roles to assist governments to fight COVID-19,
According to him, the fight against the deadly virus should not be left in the hands of governments alone, adding that the major work of curbing the virus’ spread is more of citizens’ action and patriotism.
Olalekan advised the general public to imbibe the culture of hand washing with soap and water regularly.
For presidents of nations, it is a message of hope and need for prevention: they believe that the virus can be surmounted if its spread is curtailed, pending when a cure is developed.
Chinese President Xi Jinping who visited Wuhan town, the epicentre of the virus spread, had a message of hope, as he stressed the need to balance preventing the spread of the disease with supporting the economy.
For Emmanuel Macron, President of France, who had directed the shutting of schools, he also called for concerted effort to avoid the spread of the virus.
Drawing example from Italy which is now on total lock down, having been unable to contain the virus spread, Macron called on all French citizens to join in the action to curb its spread.
On its part, the Nigerian government has just issued a directive, banning flights from 13 countries with high spread of coronavirus, including the US, UK, China, Canada, Italy, Iran, France and other European countries and also cancelled visa on arrival for nationals of those countries.
By and large, from Asia to Europe, America, the Middle East and even Africa, the same message prevails: preventing the spread of the virus.
Indeed, as the threat persists, world citizens must play their part in fighting it: they must wash hands frequently, maintain social distancing, avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth, practice respiratory hygiene and seek medical care and self-isolate when sick.
Non-adherence to these the WHO maintains is the main cause of its spread.