Contagion and coronavirus

Kumail Soomro


The writer is a media studies student with experience in journalism.

The scenes seem from Steven Soderbergh’s medical thriller ‘Contagion’. A virus transmitted by fomites, attempts by researchers to identify and contain the disease, loss of social order in a pandemic, and finally the introduction of a vaccine. The movie was inspired by the 2003 SARS epidemic and now a new strain of the novel coronavirus has become a global epidemic.
The virus originated from an illegal marketplace in the Chinese city of Wuhan dealing in wildlife trade. Bats, pangolins, and snakes could be responsible for it. The city is now virtually deserted as China has imposed serious measures to contain the disease. The doctor who sounded alarm over the disease has also died. We might never know if there was a cover-up but the disease has spread across the world.
China has reported over 2700 deaths while 70,000 people have been infected. South Korea, Japan, Philippines were next. A cruise ship docked outside a Japanese port under quarantine has the largest cluster of patients. Japan has closed down schools till April 20 forcing students to study at home. The Tokyo Olympics are in jeopardy. There is just a three-month window to make a decision whether the mega-event on which billion of dollars have been spent will be held.
Surprisingly, Iran has the largest number of death after mainland China. The epicentre there was the religious city of Qom, popular among pilgrims and students. The deputy health minister, who was in-charge of prevention measures, has been tested positive. He was seen sweating and coughing during a presser and later revealed to have contracted the disease himself. Iran has refused to quarantine cities and remains even more isolated from the world. Even Friday congregation prayers had to be called off.
Saudi Arabia has banned Umrah pilgrims and religious tourists in the country. Although the ban is temporary, it has raised doubts over the Hajj. Millions of people come for the sacred duty every year which also generates revenue for the Saudi economy. It is unprecedented in the history of Islam that Hajj would not be held for any reason whatsoever. The time is ticking to make this decision.
US President Donald Trump has given a calm response and dismissed the crisis. Vice President Mike Pence had been appointed to head a task force on coronavirus even though he has no medical expertise. In a usually bizarre speech, the US President said: “There is a good chance you won’t actually die.” This may not be reassuring but that’s the world we live in. The continent of South America has also reported its first case and Africa would be next.
A vaccine is a long way even though biotech firms are racing to seize the opportunity. A trial vaccine has been released but approvals, regulations and mass production can take at least a year or more. Some predict that coronavirus might affect seventy percent of humanity. There would be coronavirus season along with the flu season while conspiracy theories and homeopathic treatment have been floating.  In the film, the death toll reaches 2.5 million and 26 million worldwide and that disease was traced to a fruit bat, a bitten banana, a pig, and a Chinese farmer who had simply not washed his hands.
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