The 3-year anniversary: three years ago, on March 11, 2020, the world fell to the wrath of a devastating pandemic that swept across borders and oceans. Millions of lives were cut short, the economy crumbled and humanity cowered in fear and uncertainty.
Today, the fight has yielded impressive results. The world is no longer drowning in the tumultuous waves of the Covid-19 pandemic but slowly coming up for air. As we commemorate this gloomy yet unforgettable period of our lives, let’s take a trip down memory lane and reflect!
Three years after the Word Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, questions have surfaced, wondering about the origins of the deadly virus that brought the world to its knees.
The virus first came to light in Wuhan, China in December 2019 and was traced to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. By January 1, 2020, cases were rising at an alarming rate and local health authorities in Wuhan sprung into action and disinfected every nook and cranny of the market.
The authorities unleashed a rigorous cleaning exercise with a special focus on exotic wildlife such as bamboo rats and raccoon dogs which experts believed were the linking source to horseshoe bats — a reservoir for coronaviruses from where transmission to humans occurs.
Early investigations were sabotaged by a disturbing data gap, with China “refusing” to grant full data access to the WHO and other research stakeholders. Thus, there are conflicting answers about the origins of the infamous virus.
One school of thought links the source to evolutionary biology which is the common cause of zoonotic outbreaks. Another belief is that the virus might have accidentally leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, known to tackle dangerous pathogens and a walking distance from the seafood market.
These idealists backed their claims with solid evidence from similar incidents that occurred in China, Singapore, and Taiwan. Even a few laboratories in the United States have had a close shave with an escaping virus.
And of course, there are the conspiracy theorists who inferred that the virus was a bioweapon released by the United States or China, depending on their political affiliations.
Amid the theories, the majority of scientists believe that the virus is a classic zoonotic case, that is, it is a transmission from animals to humans. But because China built an impenetrable wall against information sources, there is no tangible evidence to support this scientific theory. Hence, conspiracy theories have thrived.
The Jarring Impact
The declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown regulations turned the world upside down. Humanity was forced to live life from the four walls of their homes. The voluntary but essential isolation expectedly took a toll on the global economy and livelihoods.
Children were barred from going to school. Workplaces, supermarkets, fitness centers, religious centers, and every point of human interaction and survival was shut down. Even a core necessity like healthcare centers was no longer easily accessible. Nothing provided solace but the comfort of the home.
Public health, food systems, and the labor industry battled an unprecedented challenge. The economic and social devastations caused by the pandemic were ginormous. Tens and millions of people were on the ledge of poverty and the number of undernourished people increased.
Millions of enterprises and corporate establishments confronted an existential threat. Layoffs occurred and millions of people lost their source of income. Some companies went bankrupt while others struggled to get back on their feet. Another statistic of the workforce voluntarily resigned due to the effects of isolation and labor participation drastically reduced.
The worst group affected by the economic disruptions were the vulnerable informal workers who had no access to quality healthcare and lost their grip on productive resources. The lockdowns meant they had no means to fend for themselves and their families — poverty, starvation, and despondency had a feast at the expense of this vulnerable group. But the bigger culprit was the Coronavirus.
Healthcare Delivery Staggered Under the Weight of the Pandemic
Most healthcare systems including UK healthcare were ill-prepared to weather the raging storm that was the COVID-19 pandemic. Hitherto underlying issues came into full view — bed shortages, understaffing, and less-than-standard structures unsuitable for infection management became exposed.
A decade before the pandemic, The NHS tackled acute staff shortages. Healthcare staff worked overtime to fill the staffing gap resulting in debilitating burnout and exhaustion. A system already crumbling under the weight of its numerous issues had to confront an even bigger challenge.
Health services across the UK went into the pandemic with a substantial care backlog. Access to emergency care was a nightmare, waiting times for diagnostics and elective care increased at a rapid speed. The private healthcare sector recorded more patronage than usual as public healthcare delivery was crippled.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t peculiar to the UK. Other healthcare systems across the world including the United States suffered the same fate. In some parts of the world, people resorted to self-care and traditional medicine as healthcare services struggled to meet demand. The truth is, the world was woefully unprepared to handle a health crisis of that magnitude.
The COVID-19 three-year anniversary is shadowed by myths. And like all myths, there is no ring of truth to the exaggerated claims.
Myth 1: COVID-19 is Over
COVID-19 is nowhere near over and might be here to stay. Three years later, the loathsome virus is still claiming lives. In fact, it is the fifth leading cause of death worldwide.
4 million deaths have been associated with the virus globally over the past year. The numbers are especially higher in low and middle-income countries. And the threat of new variants and mutations lingers still.
Myth 2: Pandemic Response means fewer resources for other Communal Priorities
Some people claimed that pandemic prevention and response divert key resources from other priorities. However, the response doesn’t cost the world as much as the lack of preparation does. According to economists, the COVID-19 pandemic may leave the global economy $12.5 trillion dollars short by 2024.
This is a hundred times more expensive than the amount it would have taken to invest in preventive measures. It is essential to invest in prevention and preparedness to curtail exorbitant expenses and resource shortages.
An Unprecedented Breakthrough
A raging pandemic called for immediate intervention. Scientists and researchers all over the world buckled up for the challenge. In less than a year, there was a breakthrough!
Formulating a vaccine for a volatile virus in under 12 months is an unprecedented feat. Prior to the vaccine discovery, the world fought against the pandemic by adopting nose masks, social distancing, and heightened levels of personal hygiene.
Before the COVID-19 vaccine, the fastest vaccine development was the mumps vaccine which took 4 years to develop. Under normal conditions, vaccine development takes 10-15 years. But the urgency of the situation necessitated a rushed yet effective vaccine. Researchers across the world collaborated and shared coronavirus data.
The lightning-fast vaccine success was attributed to the worldwide cooperation of researchers and scientists. A commendable undertaking considering the magnitude of the task at hand. As at November 2020, a number of COVID-19 patients were being tested in large phase 3 clinical trials.
Among the jabs in consideration was that of the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca. At the end of the month, the data analysis found that it was 70.4% effective. This news was a beam of hope in a dark tunnel. Pfizer and BioNTech also announced the effectiveness of their jabs in the same month, stating the vaccine had a 95% efficacy rate.
In December 2020, the UK was the first country to license a COVID-19 vaccine, the first jab approved was the Pfizer/BioNTech one. The vaccine was authorized for emergency use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA).
90-year-old Margaret Keenan was among the first people globally to receive the historic jab on December 8, 2020. And in January 2021, 82-year-old Brian Pinker, a dialysis patient, was the first person to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine which was authorized for use in late December. Since then, the vaccines have undergone various developments and other variants have surfaced.
The greatest lesson learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is the capacity of human resilience, social connections, and the importance of a working healthcare system. Before the pandemic, we took little things like meeting friends and colleagues for granted. We’d go to the hospital at the slightest sign of sickness and receive care. We went to work, to the gym, and socialized. Once the pandemic stole our circadian rhythms and everyday normalcy, we understood the importance and significance of what we once considered “just normal”. Life as we knew it was no longer the same.
But we learned to survive with minimal resources. We understood that masks are an essential tool, that telehealth is underrated, technology is mankind’s best gift, and a vaccine is a phenomenal weapon. We also learned the importance of mental health as people struggled to maintain zen in a tension-riddled situation. Even scientists took lessons in humility as they realized that a virus could outpower them.
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