Covid-19: What you need to know today
First, almost one in four people in Delhi show antibodies to the coronavirus disease, according to a recent survey of all of Delhi’s 11 districts, indicating that they have been exposed to it in the past (and infected, perhaps without showing any symptoms at all). IUpdated: Aug 03, 2020 12:07 IST
India’s home minister, and the second most important and powerful man in the country has contracted the coronavirus disease (Covid-19). Amit Shah tweeted out the information himself, and said that while his health is fine, he is being admitted to a hospital on the recommendation of doctors. He also asked everyone who met him in the past few days to get themselves tested. This writer wishes Shah a rapid recovery, but his infection is significant because it highlights both the prevalence of the disease in the Capital, and the risks involved in what would have been considered normal before the pandemic.
First, almost one in four people in Delhi show antibodies to the coronavirus disease, according to a recent survey of all of Delhi’s 11 districts, indicating that they have been exposed to it in the past (and infected, perhaps without showing any symptoms at all). It also means that these people have immunity against the disease, at least in the short-term — perhaps as long as their antibodies last, and maybe longer, according to Swedish research that shows that T-cells, which fight infected cells and have long memories, are there in roughly twice the number of people in whom antibodies are found.
The fact that Shah has been infected points to the fact that the disease is all around us and that anyone could get infected at anytime. This is true for Mumbai as well, where another Amit (Amitabh Bachchan) was infected with the Sars-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19 (he was discharged from a hospital on Sunday), and where a limited sero survey (antibody test) in three of the city’s 23 wards showed that around 40% of the people in the city have been exposed to the disease. Caveat: this survey is not as representative as the Delhi one.
A high prevalence of antibodies in the population may be good from the perspective of building immunity (and achieving herd immunity, the level of infection in a population that makes it difficult for the virus to travel easily from one person to another), but it is still dangerous for the old, infirm, and those with comorbidities.
Second, people who continue to go about their work, even if they take adequate precautions, stand a high chance of getting infected. Shah continued to meet people, and, with Delhi’s infections peaking in June, got involved in the Capital’s fight against the disease — even visiting the LNJP Hospital, Delhi’s main facility to treat Covid-19 patients. It isn’t clear how Shah got infected — contrary to what the health ministry continues to claim, the disease has been in community transmission mode for a few months now, so it is difficult to trace the chain of infection. Shah also attended a cabinet meeting last week — the one in which the new National Education Policy was passed — which means everyone else who attended that meeting needs to isolate themselves and also go in for a test.
India is currently in a phase the government calls Unlock 3.0, referring to more activities being allowed (and the scrapping of a night-time curfew), but Shah’s infection indicates that it isn’t going to be business-as-usual anytime soon. Participating in social activities, for work or for pleasure, increases the risk of contracting the infection. Wearing masks (all the time one is outside or at work), and practising social distancing and hand hygiene is the only way to prevent being infected.
Interestingly, gyms and public transport, including metros, in countries and cities where these are functioning, have so far not been linked to any major clusters of infection — the first, according to a Norwegian study and the second, according to a recent article in the New York Times — but this writer believes that visiting a gym or taking a metro will come with risks for at least some time.
Those of us who can avoid the risk altogether — through social isolation, WFH (work from home), video-conferencing — should, and those of us who cannot (I suspect Shah belongs to this category), should take adequate precautions and hope the mathematics of chance is in our favour.