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Singapore declares lockdown: Here is why the Wuhan Coronavirus is so deadly and why it is not ‘just the flu’

For a long time, Singapore was held up as an example of how things could continue to function normally. It was a beacon of hope for people all over the world that business could continue as usual and effective measures could be undertaken to avoid any radical shift from the normal order of affairs. But now, even Singapore is going into lockdown for a month.

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K Bhattacharjee
Black Coffee Enthusiast. Post Graduate in Psychology. Bengali.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong declared a near-total lockdown of the country on Friday, barring essential services, from the 7th of April for a duration of one month due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Most schools and workplaces will be shut down during this period, however, essential services and key economic sectors will continue to operate. The city-state, which had managed to curb the spread of the Wuhan Coronavirus for a long time without enforcing a lockdown, has recently seen a sharp spike in the number of new cases.

“We have decided that instead of tightening incrementally over the next few weeks, we should make a decisive move now, to pre-empt escalating infections,” Prime Minister Lee said in his speech. He also urged citizens to stay home as much as possible and avoid socializing beyond one’s own household.

Singapore had hitherto shined as a beacon in the fight against the Wuhan Coronavirus as a state that had managed to tackle its spread without resorting to a lockdown. For a time, it was thought that managing the crisis without a lockdown was even possible given the manner in which the city-state had approached the crisis. However, as the recent increase in cases force Singapore into a lockdown, the world has to reckon with the fact that fighting Covid-19 without a lockdown may well be impossible.

Singapore has used a combination of adequate surveillance measures, efficient contact tracing, proper quarantine facilities, strong community engagement and mass testing to contain the spread of the virus. However, despite it efficient handling of the situation, the city-state has witnessed a sharp upsurge in the number of confirmed cases. Prime Minister Lee admitted that “despite our good contact tracing, for nearly half of these cases, we do not know where or from whom the person caught the virus”.

Thus, until now, Singapore had managed to avoid a lockdown but only thus far, no further. It does force one to change a great many perceptions regarding the nature of the Wuhan Coronavirus. It is also pertinent to note that the United Kingdom had initially planned to go ahead with its ‘herd immunity’ approach. The plan was to allow the virus to spread as much as possible in order to develop a collective resistance to it within the population. However, that plan was doomed to fail from the very beginning as the death toll would have been catastrophically high. Britain eventually backed off from that harebrained idea.

Thus, all things considered, Singapore made a calculated decision to implement a lockdown now in order to ensure that things do not escalate to a point where the virus overwhelms the healthcare system. In other words, the city-state is trying to ‘flatten the curve’. “It will help reduce the risk of a big outbreak occurring and it should also help to gradually bring our numbers down,” Prime Minister Lee said. “If we don’t go out, if we avoid contact with others, then the virus won’t be able to spread. It is as simple as that,” he added.

As Singapore goes into lockdown, here is what makes the Wuhan Coronavirus so deadly

Certain people have pointed towards the fact that the virus has a low death rate. The lower death rate initially has led people to claim that “It is just the flu!” However, the virus spreads at a remarkable speed and is extremely contagious. It can last on surfaces for hours, on certain surfaces up to three to four days. There is some evidence to suggest that it can spread in aerosolized form as well. A person could even get infected just by talking or breathing.

All of these factors combine to cause an exponential growth in the number of cases. Worst of all, even seemingly normal people can be carriers of the virus (asymptomatic carriers) and even when they don’t suffer any symptoms or suffer only mild ones, they could very well infect others who might suffer critical symptoms or could even die.

While people have correctly noted that the virus tends to have a low fatality rate, this holds true only during the initial phases of the spread when the virus is yet to overwhelm the healthcare system. However, once the virus has infected too many people and the healthcare system has been overburdened, the death rate tends to increase too. Take Italy for example. As of 6:32 GMT on the 4th of April, the total number of Coronavirus cases was 119,827 and the total number of deaths was 14,681. That is a more than 10% Case Fatality Rate, well over it in fact.

Source: Worldometer

The case is similar with regards to Spain. As of 6:41 GMT on the 4th of April, Spain had a total of 119,199 Coronavirus cases and at least officially, 11,198 people had died due to the virus. Therefore, relying on official statistics alone, that is a death rate of well over 9%. For the past couple of days, Spain has recorded over 900 deaths on both occasions.

Source: Worldometer

The story is similar in countries most affected by the virus. In Britain, there have been 3,605 deaths out of 38,168 cases with a death rate of 9.44%. Iran, whose official statistics are not reliable at all, say that 3,294 people have died out of 53,183 Coronavirus cases with an official death rate of 62.%. However, these numbers from Iran are not reliable and the number of deaths is most probably much higher. France has recorded 6,507 deaths out of 82,165 Coronavirus cases with a death rate of 7.92%.

There are other countries that have recorded much lower death rates than the countries mentioned. The USA, which is providing one of the most reliable indicators of the potential death rate of the virus, has recorded 7,402 deaths out of a total of 277,476 cases with a death rate of 2.67%. Germany has recorded 1,275 deaths out of 91,159 cases with a death rate of 1.40%. However, there are some allegations that Germany is ‘fudging’ the data. Then, there are countries such as Switzerland, South Korea, Canada and Austria and even India which have managed to contain the virus exceedingly well thus far. Globally, the death rate currently stands at 5.30%. However, it has to be mentioned here that these death rates reflect countries where the healthcare system has not been overwhelmed by the virus. And it includes countries such as China and Iran which haven’t been entirely honest about their death rates.

What happens when the healthcare system has been overburdened like in Italy or Spain? Medical supplies will run out and countries will face a shortage of medical equipment. Before long, doctors will have to make the call regarding who continues to receive medical attention and who doesn’t, essentially, they will have to make the call between who gets to live and who doesn’t. It’s a horrible situation for any doctor to be in but if the healthcare system of the country is overrun, this is what will happen. Thus, when the number of cases starts increasing horribly, the death rate will also increase when medical supplies start falling short.

Experts have said that with increased testing, the death rate is likely to go down. However, it needs to be mentioned that if the number of infected cases are just too many, then the death count could very well run into hundreds and thousands if not millions. The United States, for instance, predicted that anywhere between 100,000 to 240,000 people could die from the virus even if all federal guidelines are followed precisely. The time frame was not mentioned.

Unconfirmed theories of the impact of the Wuhan Coronavirus

There is at least some evidence to suggest that infected individuals who eventually recover carry lasting damage to their system even after recovering from the disease. A report that was published by a team based at the Reproductive Medicine Centre at Tongji Hospital in Wuhan, China and published on the Hubei Government’s website suggested that men who had recovered from the disease should consult experts to determine whether their fertility had been affected by the virus. The report said it was theoretically possible that COVID-19 could impact men’s reproductive health, as a receptor that the virus is thought to use to infect human cells, called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), is also highly expressed in the testes. However, the report was later removed from the website.

Furthermore, seasonal flu is known to affect male fertility at least in the short term. “Seasonal flus are known to reduce male fertility… We think that it’s due to the fever associated with the illness, which overheats the testicles,” said reproductive urologist Dr. Paul Turek. “Currently, it is believed that the [novel coronavirus] is similar to a common seasonal flu virus regarding its impact on male fertility,” explains Dr. Turek. However, he said that the impact should be temporary. “The effect is similar to that of hot baths or tubs, and is fully reversible,” he said.

SARS, with which Covid-19 (SARs-CoV-2) shares genetic similarities is known to cause damage to testicles. A research paper stated, “All SARS testes displayed widespread germ cell destruction, few or no spermatozoon in the seminiferous tubule, thickened basement membrane, and leukocyte infiltration.” Orchitis, or inflammation of the testicles, is caused by SARS, the research observed. Therefore, it is at least theoretically possible that Covid-19 could have similar consequences but it has not been confirmed yet and it is still too early to say.

Evidence also suggests that at least some of those who have recovered from the disease are likely to sustain severe long-term damage to their lungs, heart, brain and other organs and in certain cases, the damage could very well be permanent. One prominent issue that has been observed is the occurrence of Acute Respiratory Disease Syndrome (ARDS) in recovered patients. Doctors in Hong Long found that out of a small study of 12 recovered patients, two or three had diminished lung function.

The coronavirus has been treated “as though it’s life and death – if you have the right medical care you can survive – but some survivors are having issues that are lingering”, observed Lynn Goldman, dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. “Because of how serious the ARDS is, the damage that you can have for that is for a lifetime.” “Large numbers of ARDS survivors are not able to go back to work,” added Onjen Gajic, a critical care specialist at the Pulmonary Medical Department of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

“The most severely ill patients require mechanical ventilation to keep their tissues supplied with oxygen until the inflammation subsides,” Julie Fischer, an associate research professor of microbiology and immunology at Georgetown University Fischer, stated. “Both the inflammation and the mechanical ventilation required to help patients survive can damage the delicate tissues of the lung that are involved in oxygen transfer, which may affect the function of the lungs even after recovery from acute COVID-19 disease.”

Thus, the Wuhan Coronavirus could very well have debilitating affect on the people it has infected, even the ones who ultimately recover from the disease. However, the extent of the pandemic means that the lives of everyone will be impacted, to varying degrees. All aspects of an individual’s life will undergo drastic changes and a lot of it may very well be permanent. In short, we could very well be at the dawn of a new age.

Impact of the Wuhan Coronavirus on International Relations

Unsurprisingly, the Wuhan Coronavirus has also impacted the manner in which countries interact with each other and the geopolitics of the world. The USA, for instance, has upped the ante, at least rhetorically thus far, against China which it blames for failing to warn the world of the actual threat of the virus. Calls for manufacturing bases to be moved out of China are gaining momentum and appeals for at least essential medical supplies to be manufactured domestically in the US have gained particularly. And it is not only relations between China and the USA which have been affected or expected to be affected in the near future, Covid-19 has the potentially to alter the fundamental relationships between countries as well.

For instance, countries have been sparring with each other over medical supplies. The Turkish government has reportedly seized medical ventilators Spain bought from China. The supplies were en route to Spain when the plane made a stop at Ankara. Turkish authorities confiscated the supplies there and are expected to use it for their own needs. Not too long ago, thousands of masks sent by China to Italy ended up in Czech Republic after the latter’s authorities seized them. Germany, too, has accused the US of ‘modern piracy’ after it was alleged that Berlin-bound medical supplies were stopped at Bangkok in Thailand and diverted to the USA. There have been other instances of such cases as well. All of this is likely to leave a bitter taste in the mouth of actors at the international level.

International institutions are being undermined by the pandemic as well. As a consequence of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) conduct, people’s faith in global institutions has been vastly undermined. Ever since the beginning of the chain of events, the WHO helped further China’s propaganda at the international level, as a consequence of which many countries that are now severely affected did not take the virus seriously in its early stages. The European Union has seen increasing dissonance between member states. Apart from squabble between Italy and the Czech Republic, there have been regarding the order of affairs among other members as well.

We can expect a resurgence of nationalism and a rejection of Open Borders Globalism going forward. The manner in which countries conduct their trade will change greatly as well. All things considered, we will see a great realignment once the immediate crisis begins to fade. Even in the midst of the crisis, we can already see that calls are being made for drastic changes. Countries have already shut their borders, even in regions such as the European Union where certain member states practiced an open borders policy. The world as we know it is about to change forever.

Changes in Domestic Policies of Governments due to Coronavirus pandemic

Going forward, we are also likely to witness drastic changes in the manner in which governments conduct their business domestically. The internal politics of countries will change too. Although it is too early to say conclusively as of now, it should not surprise anyone if the Coronavirus pandemic marks the end of the age of liberal democracies. Every country has been forced to suspend the personal liberty of individuals, and criminalize the individual’s right to exercise his or her personal liberty, in order to suspend laws that form the cornerstones of liberal democracies. And no one could accuse the countries of acting against the interests of its population.

Furthermore, border patrols will most likely be increased as well and countries will be very hesitant to unilaterally open their borders any time soon. Trade policies will change as well and countries will at least attempt to ensure that essential supplies are either manufactured within their own territories or in countries that they are confident they can rely on in times of distress. Given the conduct of China in recent times, where they have essentially robbed countries of medical supplies during their times of crisis, countries will look to curb their dependence on China for manufacturing and at least distribute their dependence across several countries.

Surveillance measures will gain increasing acceptance in matters of governance. Countries such as Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan have managed to contain the spread of the virus thus far by employing sweeping surveillance techniques. India has attempted to use surveillance techniques as well to effectively monitor those in quarantine, but to a vastly lesser disagree. Going forward, we can expect surveillance measures to have much wider acceptance than they do now. In addition to all of this, industries and businesses will be hugely impacted as well. Work From Home (WFH) is likely to become a permanent feature across several companies. E-Commerce will likely receive a boost as well. But it is much too soon to make sweeping predictions about the consequences of the pandemic on businesses. Wearing masks in public will become a lot of frequent and could very well become the norm. The fog will probably take months to clear.

The Dawn of a New Age?

For all the reasons mentioned above, we are likely at the cusp of a new age. Things will change forever and countries will find it extremely difficult, nigh impossible, to go back to how things were before. For a long time, Singapore was held up as an example of how things could continue to function normally. It was a beacon of hope for people all over the world that business could continue as usual and effective measures could be undertaken to avoid any radical shift from the normal order of affairs. But now, even Singapore is going into a lockdown for a month.

It is not yet clear precisely when the pandemic will begin to recede. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said that the earliest vaccine for the Wuhan Coronavirus is 12 to 18 months away at the very least. It could very well take longer than that. Despite social distancing and other measures, the only definitive way to prevent a spread of the virus is through a vaccine and a vaccine is a significant time away. A lot of experts do believe it could take even longer than that.

People should not expect life to return to normal anytime soon. While India may well lift the nationwide lockdown at the end of 21 days, and the government has amply indicated its intentions to, other countries are likely to continue with theirs for a significantly more amount of time. In many countries or at least in their states or specific regions, the lockdown could continue for a month or two, maybe even six. Most countries that can afford an extended lockdown will probably increase it. Singapore has declared lockdown for a month. Others could very well have a lockdown for months. But all things considered, the pandemic is likely to remain a part of our lives for at least a couple of years.

*All death counts and total number of cases mentioned were of the time of writing this report unless stated otherwise.

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K Bhattacharjee
Black Coffee Enthusiast. Post Graduate in Psychology. Bengali.

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