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Business News/ Opinion / Views/  The swan song of coronavirus is audible in an ebbing third wave

The swan song of coronavirus is audible in an ebbing third wave

Its declining danger tracks the last pandemic closely with infections getting milder as mutants and hosts adapt to coexist

Both infections and deaths from the third wave have been falling sharply globally after peaking in the second half of January.Premium
Both infections and deaths from the third wave have been falling sharply globally after peaking in the second half of January.

The Lockdown 

The Corona Virus is strange,

It has a variable range.

Dangerous in the way it spreads,

And in mysterious ways it treads

In primary schools it abides,

But in grocery stores it dies.

It spreads when buying clothes at malls,

And multiplex cinema halls.

It is non-alcoholic, it

Cannot spread through beer or spirit, 

Although it lurks in drinking bars.

While three persons are safe in cars, 

Should you another dare to add,

It drives corona very mad. 

Weddings with fifty are kosher,

One more is a party pooper 

On Amazon boxes it lies,

On takeaway coffee it dies. 

Politics too does Covid play,

Those in mass rallies get away, 

While it takes mass protests to task,

Spared is the leader without mask.

To playing fields and gyms it flies,

But in bakery shops it dies.

Fast food workers and bank tellers

Cannot spread it, unlike barbers.

Coaches and masseurs Covid kicks,

Not TV and fridge mechanics

Covid is also time savvy

10 to 5 AM most deadly 

Businesses can create mayhem

If they don’t close by 6 PM

Clear it is that none can escape

Corona’s whimsical embrace

The bureaucrat’s rule making skill

Even Corona cannot kill.

It is said that swans sing before they die. The ebbing third wave of the pandemic, with the highly infectious but far less lethal Omicron mutant, might well be the swan song of covid. This is despite the fact that at its third-wave peak (around 20 January 2022), daily new cases touched 3.8 million globally. At the height of the deadly second wave (around 20 April 2021), these were far lower, at around 0.9 million. Also, while peak daily mortality during the second wave (about 17,000) was higher around the world, it was by no means low (13,000) during the third wave.

A global scourge that's on its way out 
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A global scourge that's on its way out 

That said, if one were to divide peak daily deaths by peak new cases, you get a peak mortality of just 3.4 per 1,000 during the third wave, compared to 190 per 1,000 at the height of the second wave. One can, therefore, conclude that while the third wave has been over four times as infectious as the second wave, it’s 56 times less lethal.

The accompanying table analyses coronavirus data at six-weekly intervals since the start of the pandemic ( for 32 major countries that together account for 69% of the world’s population and about 85% of all recorded covid deaths. A data analysis reveals three major pandemic trends that are unlikely to change much.

First, global covid mortality exceeds 6 million now, with the US death toll at around a million, and that in Brazil and India above half-a-million each. Another 14 countries have recorded deaths in excess of 100,000, all in Transatlantic countries, except for Indonesia. There are, however, likely to be subsequent revisions of mortality data on account of undercounting/reporting.

Second, the pandemic has centred on the Transatlantic, with the 25 countries (West and Central Asia included) adjoining the two seaboards of the Atlantic Ocean that have just 22.2% of the world population accounting for 71% of all deaths. By contrast, the global share of the seven South and East Asian countries (China and India included) that account for over 47% of the global population is just 13%. Of this, 68% of the deaths recorded are in India. Africa was minimally impacted, except for South Africa and northern countries near the Mediterranean Sea (part of the Atlantic system).

Third, the pandemic has had three major waves so far, with the second wave the most lethal. This is not clearly discernible in the global numbers because these peaked at different times (as highlighted) across the three regions. There could be more but increasingly benign waves.

There is much about viruses that remains to be uncovered by science. The debate on whether they are living things or not is still not settled. While antibodies can ‘kill’ viruses, several others survive and can remain dormant for unknown durations, turning active again once conditions are favourable. For this reason, some cosmologists believe that life on earth, and perhaps elsewhere in the universe, was seeded by viruses, possibly through comets.

It is, therefore, difficult to be absolutely certain about where we might go from here. A pattern of virus pandemics is nevertheless evident. Viruses that are highly infectious, such as the common cold, are rarely lethal. Those that are, are rarely too infectious. But every now and then, perhaps once a century, you get a virus that is both highly infectious and lethal, like the one that caused Spanish Flu in the last century and covid today.

The virus mutates at a pace unparalleled in the living world. After causing high mortality initially, later-generation mutants tend to become more and more benign, as the virus and its host learn to coexist peacefully and the host develops new anti-bodies. This is what happened to the Spanish Flu and covid too seems headed in a similar direction.

Both infections and deaths from the third wave have been falling sharply globally after peaking in the second half of January. This points to the end of the most serious phase of the pandemic, although there could be relatively benign subsequent waves, indistinguishable from seasonal flu.

So even as we continue to take necessary precautions and follow mandated protocols, including vaccinations, and mourn the dear ones we lost in the deadliest phase of the pandemic, we can begin the year with cautious hope. Indeed, with the distance of time that insulates feeling from experience, we can begin to look back with a smile at the way we bumbled our way through a deadly virus about which everybody, including those tasked with protecting us, seemed clueless.

Alok Sheel is former secretary, Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council

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Published: 09 Mar 2022, 10:15 PM IST
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