COVID – pandemic, panic or both?

By Kersi Meher-Homji

Being a Virologist, a journalist and a person who thinks for himself, I have looked at COVID-19 from different perspectives.

Firstly, COVID-19 stands for Coronavirus disease first isolated in late 2019. The official names COVID-19 and SARS-CoV were issued by the World Health Organisation on 11 February 2020. SARS-CoV is short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus.

Although a Virologist, I must admit that I have not done research on COVID myself, having retired over a decade ago. But I have done research on poliomyelitis and related viruses at Grant Medical College, Mumbai, subsequently on pox group of viruses at Sydney University and on Hepatitis and HIV AIDS (Human Immunodeficiency Virus causing Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) at the NSW Blood Bank.

But none of the above infectious viruses have created half as much mass hysteria as COVID. Being a respiratory virus it has spread worldwide and so is correctly referred to as a pandemic.

Smallpox. Polio and Influenza viruses have also killed many but have received much less press coverage. Poliomyelitis was much feared in post-World War II era killing thousands. Influenza has been just as or even more lethal over many years.

But by media giving COVID mutants Delta and Omicron front page coverage there is a mass hysteria, frightening all of us as if we are about to die. I agree there is a pandemic as it has spread internationally but there is also panic.

And what double standards! You have to keep a distance of 1.5 meters in public transports and at shopping centers. But 70,000 can attend a cricket Test match in Melbourne. Have you seen a Rugby League match where five players fall on each other to hold a ball? Please tell me how many of those 70,000 spectators have caught Omicron? And how many of the NRL players caught Delta?

You will tell me that they were vaccinated. OK so get vaccinated and problem solved to a large extent. Till comes the new mutant, hope not Gamma!

I agree that currently the Omicron strain infects about 20,000 a day in NSW. Something to worry about, no doubt. But how many of them get serious symptoms? And how many die? The symptoms of COVID in over 90 percent of cases are like those in common cold; runny nose, sore throat, cough; occasionally fever.

Reading about the dangers of fatality with Omicron have led to thousands of people queuing up every day. Much more than in the past. This may lead statistically to increased number of COVID cases. Nobody writes positive cases out of how many tested?

As a Virologist I know that just detecting a virus (from blood, nose …) does not establish its etiology (cause of the disease). How do I know? In my MSc thesis I had collected stool (faeces) samples from 232 healthy humans and detected nine polioviruses. Those persons remained healthy.

So detecting a virus does not necessarily mean that the person has been infected. One has to inject that virus into laboratory animals to detect its pathogenicity. No such study has been done as far as I know.

Sadly, the politicians do not know much about Virology. Also media tend to exaggerate the stories to make them colourful and scary. Bad news dominate in today’s media. There are eye-catching headlines when bushfires and floods threaten your home. Or the dams are less than 30 percent full. But good news stories (when there are no bushfires or the dams are 95 percent full) are never reported.

Please do not get me wrong. I am not suggesting that the COVID pandemic is not real. It is and one has to be careful by wearing mask in public places and keeping a safe distance. But please do not get into a fearful frenzy or press panic buttons.

Car accidents and road fatalities do happen every day but does it stop you driving or crossing the road? Do they?

Hope 2022 is free from Delta or Omicron or any new mutants of COVID.

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