The Financial Express

Asian Covid-19 statistics: A riddle?  

Shamsul Huq Zahid   | Published: April 26, 2020 22:18:33

Asian Covid-19 statistics: A riddle?   

The novel coronavirus continues to be a mystery. Frantic efforts are on and funds worth billions of dollar have been deployed in an all-out war against this deadly invisible enemy the modern world has ever encountered.

There have been questions and assumptions galore about the behaviour of the virus. Even some people have come up with fascinating ideas about killing the virus in very simple ways. Incumbent US President Donald Trump is one of them. Though Mr. Trump promptly backtracked from his suggestion of injecting disinfectant into human body to kill the virus instantly, he has put to question his own state of mental health ahead of the next US presidential election.

Amidst all the erratic, and at times amusing, statements and actions coming from the US president, none other than the Director General of  World Health Organisation (WHO),  TedrosAdhanom, has come up with a stark and unsavoury statement: Coronavirus, it seems, will be staying with 'us for some more time'.

The virus has already killed more than 200,000 people and infected more than 2.9 million in 210 countries across the world. What will happen finally is beyond anyone's apprehension. In fact, there are mixed signals about the behaviour of the virus. The rates of both infection and death in some severely affected countries have slowed down after reaching their peaks. Expectation is that the trend will continue. These countries are now planning to reopen their economies gradually amidst the WHO warning that any rash decision could lead to a resurgence of the disease.

Where does Bangladesh stand in such an uncertain situation?

Actually, it is hard to make an assessment under the given circumstances. Compared to the rates of infection and fatality in European and North American countries, Bangladesh and other South Asian countries are in a better position.

A few statistics would support this fact. Eight South Asian countries have an aggregate population of 1.82 billion. The number of Covid-19 patients in these countries is around 42,000.  Europe has a population of 750 million and the number of corona-infected people is more than 1.2 million. Similarly, North America has a population of 370 million and the number of people infected there is estimated to be nearly 1.0 million.

Why should the developed countries with all the resources and modern health facilities have a far greater number of COVID patients than the poor and overcrowded South Asian countries?  The state of resource availability and health systems in the latter does not also require any elaboration.

Is the very wide difference in the number of infection and death because of underreporting alone or something else?

There is no denying that none of the South Asian countries could manage extensive testing as prescribed by the WHO because of the shortage of necessary kits and diagnostic laboratories.

So, there is every possibility that the actual number of infection is higher than what is officially revealed in a number of South Asian countries. Still the rate is strikingly low given the very high population density, poor living conditions and inadequate health facilities in most countries of the region. Experts had earlier expressed their deep concern over the future of countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Nepal and Bhutan have fewer infections with no fatality until now.

There is no denying that most governments of South Asian countries took prompt steps to deal with a health emergency of unprecedented nature.  Three of them---Bangladesh, India and Pakistan---had, however, encountered a major problem with regards to entry of their migrant workers with Covid-19 becoming a pandemic. Bangladesh in particular was found to have taken a non-serious approach towards quarantining the incoming migrant workers. This has helped the disease to spread even to remote areas.

It is beyond anybody's knowledge when the number of infections will reach its peak and start going down in Bangladesh and other South Asian countries or what will happen if the authorities decide to resume operations of the economy even in phases.

Yet the issue of lower rate of infection does deserve some scrutiny by the experts in the relevant field.

At least one research finding, revealed by the US science and technology advisor late last week during the regular White House briefing, said that coronavirus was found dying fast when it is exposed to sunlight and humid conditions. The ultraviolet ray might be playing a role here.

The finding has, thus, confirmed the much-prevailed popular perception about the vulnerability of the virus to sunlight and heat.

It is now summer in most South Asian countries. The weather is hot and humid. Are the climatic conditions then playing some role in keeping the infection rate low in South Asian countries?

If that is so, the peoples of this region should pray and hope that the researchers come out successful in developing an effective vaccine against the virus before the next winter sets in this part of the world.


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