Test Swab For Covid-19

Coronavirus, Nemesis Of Age Of Reason

It’s only a Virus. But it’s the Pandemic Virus! Who was responsible? Superstition, blind faith, witches brew and conspiracies are back in the ‘Age of Reason’ and science. Anthropocentric (human centric) confidence is meeting its nemesis. People forget, nature can’t be ruled.

Nature is full of viruses. There are some millions of strains and scientists cannot quite agree on a classification. What’s more, viruses are constantly mutating without the help of scientists in white coats. Nature is their driver, scientist and spy in chief.

A virus is essentially a RNA or a DNA with a bit of coating in many. It has confounded the scientific world for classification as it is neither a non-living entity nor quite a living entity. It does not replicate by finding a partner and produce baby viruses to be nurtured by mummy virus.

RNA and DNA are templates from a sort of Unicode. They are gene codes of all of life, be it microbes (bacteria etc), insects, mammals human beings, plants, fungus etc. Each species has its own code and within species there are small variations, such as hair colour, height, facial features, gender, functional ability (some become Ussain Bolts, others are best suited to watch TV) and so on. Of course environment also plays a part but the framework is all due to these guys, called RNA and DNA. And they make adjustments over years, thus giving rise to evolutionary changes.

A virus is essentially a RNA or a DNA with a bit of coating

RNA and DNA are made of small molecules called nucleotides. For those with a bit of chemistry background, both have guanine, adenine and cytosine. But DNA also has thymine while just to be different, RNA has uracil instead. They occur in different combinations thus giving each RNA and DNA a different character for the species. They have one further difference. RNA is usually a single string and DNA is two strings, the famous double helix structure. It gets more complex after that and we are not giving away free PhD courses here.

ALSO READ: From Brexit To Bogroll Britain – Lessons For India

One other character difference between the two for interest is that DNA is more stable while RNA is quite unstable. RNA tends to change more frequently, hence some viruses like coronaviruses mutate constantly.

RNA and DNA are the reason life continues to replicate. These guys don’t want nirvana. Over millions of years they have formed complex ways for perpetuity. Some formed bacteria and continue like that, Others have become elephants etc. Many have become plants and others have formed the human race for survival. When we say life goes on, in fact it is the gene, the RNA and DNA that goes on. While we make elaborate theories about soul and afterlife, these guys, RNA, DNA just want to jump into the next generation and survive. They are not interested in God.

Some of these guys didn’t bother to become exotic. They have remained in their most basic form as RNA or DNA and found convenient way to near eternity. They survive with a little protective protein coat and become parasites to replicate. We call them viruses!

Viruses are very, very, very small. They are about 10000 times smaller than a grain of salt.  They are also nimble. The coronavirus has some 29,903 nucleotides. The smallest human chromosome is 50 million nucleotides with a total of 3,200,000,000 nucleotides in a human DNA. With 3.2 billion relatives in tow, no wonder the human DNA has to make us go through those complex rituals of finding a partner, marriage ceremony and home making to get itself to the next generation. Believe it, it is not your parents who push you into a marriage, it is the human gene trying to remain on this earth through another generation.

ALSO READ: ‘Hold Your Nerve During Home Quarantine’

The nimble virus on the other hand doesn’t have to go through these rituals. But it has no life until it joins a living thing. It just hangs around or degenerates. It survives by finding something living, sneaks into its cells by crafty methods and then replicates! It is the ultimate real life zombie film.

There are viruses everywhere. Millions and trillions of them. Only around 5000 have been studied. They are in every organism.

So what about coronavirus. This virus has another capsule, as do many virus strains. There is a halo appearance to this capsule with small mushroom type bits on it. Hence it is called corona. Corona is a gaseous halo around a planet. There are quite a few types of coronavirus strains. SARS-CoV-2 is a new mutation causing the disease Covid-19.

This nasty virus usually attacks lower parts of the lungs rather than throat that other influenza viruses do. It attaches to the membrane of host cells. Poor suckers (host cells) get romantic with it and open up. In goes the Viral RNA. It twinkles its eyes (metaphorically) at everyone and finds its way into the host nucleus and DNA. There it becomes deceitful, raids the DNA, uses it and replicates like no tomorrow. Many more Coronavirus formations take form. They push out of the host cell membrane onto others. Some get sneezed out. If the host cells had a vocabulary, deceitful is the mildest word they would use as they are ripped apart.

An effigy of Covid19 at Moghalpura X road in Hyderbad

Then the collateral damage starts. The cells that die form mucous. When cells die, it leads to temperature as the body deals with toxins. The mucous accumulates. The cells that are meant to push the mucous upwards into the mouth for us to spit (bad habit) or swallow, are dying and unable to do so. When there is quite a bit of mucous, the Oxygen from the air cannot get in properly while Carbon-di-Oxide from blood cannot get out. No amount of ginger or haldi can help at this stage. The whole body starts becoming toxic. Ventilators are used to try and push in high concentration Oxygen in the hope that it will give time to the body to build antibodies to destroy the virus.

The human immune system is a remarkable defence army. There is no dithering politician to control its timing. Normally the human body has had numerous mild infections since birth. The immune system immediately does what scientists are trying to do except it works faster. It looks at hostile cells, studies it (yes believe it or not) and then builds counter cells, enzymes etc to destroy the hostile invader. This has nothing to do with witches brew.

Once the immune system has dealt with an invasion, it memorises it. Next time it is even quicker off the mark. But sometimes the invasion is overwhelming, especially in older people where the immune system is also in retirement mode, or in people with illnesses such as diabetes where it has other distractions and is also slightly compromised. In these cases the virus gets an advantage and may decapacitate the body’s response. The person dies from lack of Oxygen reaching vital organs.

The Covid-19 virus is called a novel virus, meaning a new mutation. That’s why people do not have pre-existing immunity. The body is building immunity on the go.

Viruses change some of their RNA nucleotide sequences in a number of clever ways when they realise hosts have effective defences. The host has to start building immunity all over again.

They can get together with another virus of near similar strain within a host and create a different RNA nucleotide structure without affecting core one. This is called ‘recombination’. For instance there may be a strain from animal A, i.e. a bat, that gets into animal B, i.e. a pig. The pig may have some similar strains to human viruses.  A new recombinant virus strain appears called novel virus. This newly mutated virus jumps into the human and we get a pandemic if the virus is dangerous.

Though widely believed, there is no evidence that the virus came from bat soup

Bats and viruses like each other and have the ultimate deal. A lot of their viruses spread to humans. ‘Kill all the bats, build a beautiful bat wall! Detain them and deport them to Mars,’ you may be tempted to say if you think like an American president. Its not that simple. Without bats, we may be short of food as they eat insects, pollinate plants and disperse seeds. The ecosystem is very complicated.

There are a few other ways viruses change, one is called antigenic drift when the protein cover of virus changes by mutational ability of virus code over time. There is another called Antigenic shift when two or more viral strains work together to change their protein cover thus fooling the host immune system. Very clever these viruses. Cleverer than most politicians. Virology is complicated.

ALSO READ: Will Humans Be Better Post-Pandemic

One does not need a Chinese scientist stealing information from USA laboratories and accidentally spilling it in Wuhan wild animal market as some Americans want the world to think. Viruses have been doing this for millions of years and are quite deft at it. No wonder pandemics keep on recurring. Besides when laboratories fool around with viruses they also ensure there are antibody serums or vaccines. Nothing seems to have sprung up during the coronavirus pandemic.

It needs to be said that there are good viruses as well. Viruses favourite victims are bacteria. There are trillions of bacteria. There would be many more if viruses were not invading them and killing them. We have viruses in our guts, respiratory system (lungs) and reproductive tracts killing the bad bacteria. These are called bacteriophages. We will be suffering from toxic shocks if these viruses left in disgust.

In Russia and some Eastern European countries, viruses are used as phages to deal with antibiotic resistant bacteria. The science is too young and expensive in the rest of the west yet but not in Russia. Don’t ask me why. Big Pharma etc?

Phage science is now looking at using viruses to kill cancer cells in the body. This is an interesting and exciting development. Since viruses can be specific, they are being developed in laboratories to target cancer cells. The science is in its infancy and still looking at how the body immune system can permit this exception.

Phages clean our sewers of bacteria, sterilise a lot of our plant food supply and help some plants withstand hard weathers.

Sadly there is no cure for the bad viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) when they are on the prowl. We can’t wage a war on viruses or send them packing. There are nearly a billion viruses in a square meter of earth surface! And they also literally fall from the sky as they exist in the outer stratosphere of earth too. We have to hide from a pandemic virus or build immunity.

Basically run away from the virus and wash your hands. Soap destroys the outer membrane of coronavirus thus rendering it impotent immediately.

WATCH: How To Wash Hands Correctly

The second is to find a vaccine that will help to build immunity against the next wave.  A naturally robust immune system can help many as it has during this crises.

Corona Virus has shown the world how weak the human race is. In the age of science and reason, human beings had started to believe that the human race is in control of everything. It is this false arrogance, a belief in infallibility of human reason, that has made people forget that human society only knows a miniscule amount about nature. That is why people want to believe that only a human conspiracy can create a virus this potent! Quite simply, it is nature working hand in glove with a tiny virus to outwit our immune systems, our vaccine programmes and most importantly our silly boisterous political leaders.

Best strategy now is, be a coward, be smart and hide from the virus until its numbers go down substantially. Don’t stare it in the eye. Wait for a scientist, not a holyman or a politician, find a vaccine. Even then, there is no guarantee as these guys mutate. Forget the conspiracy theories, these viruses have been at this game for millions of years even before the human race came on the scene. 300 millions years apparently.

Will Humans Turn Better Post-Pandemic?

Nonetheless, he knew that the tale he had to tell could not be one of a final victory. It could be only the record of what had had to be done, and what assuredly would have to be done again in the never-ending fight against terror and its relentless onslaughts…. And, indeed, as he listened to the cries of joy rising from the town, he knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen chests; and that perhaps it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.

The End, The Plague, Albert Camus, 1947

The city of Oran. All real cities are mythical and vice versa. In a moment they can cease to exist, even while it takes decades to build them and inject them with dreams and insomnia. It can just take a war or an epidemic to eliminate the city, except in memory.

The city of Oran, a port city in the northwest Algeria on which Camus based this epical short novel on the cholera epidemic that killed most of Oran’s population in 1849 following French colonization. The novel is located in the time and space of the 1940s, with fascism looming large as a sinister but inevitable shadow over Europe.

Have you seen Warsaw’s memory in its own self-consciousness? The entire city ravaged to the ground by the fascists, 50,000 valiant Polish soldiers and civilians martyred, yet again a great betrayal by Stalin with the Red Army just across the border on the war map. And the entire Jewish quarter of 500,000 citizens, ghettoized, isolated and quarantined, then eventually transported to the death camps and gas chambers of Adolf Hitler’s Holocaust.

ALSO READ: How Tiny Finland Is Fighting Covid-19

Warsaw, mutiliated and brutalised, like a distorted and abstract sculpture in a black and white picture turning sepia – almost like Aleppo in modern Syria, its fate worse than that of Warsaw.

Have we learnt anything from history, really? Has human civilization, with its missiles, nuclear bombs and weapons of mass destruction, its great scientific achievements, if not savvy hi-tech super power monopolies, picked up threads and clues from the crossword puzzles of its battered history?

Two world wars, one Holocaust, new maps and mappings drawn with blood across vast terrains of unnumbered human graveyards of utter silence, as in Bosnia-Herzegovina and around its borders; thousands of massacres, including state-sponsored genocides, destruction of entire civilizations, geographies, cultures and human settlements, libraries, museums, universities, schools and art galleries in the Middle-east led by the neo-con American war machine propelled by Samuel Huntington’s dubious thesis of the ‘clash of civilizations’.

That is, the American arms and culture industry constantly looking for a new enemy, from James Bond to George Bush and Dick Cheney, even Barack Obama. This has become an art form and a con game, including in pulp fiction Hollywood, constantly looking for ‘blood for oil’ and new macabre theatres to enact its grotesque and cold-blooded orchestra through its war machine.

ALSO READ: ‘Lockdown Is Fine, Not Panic Buying?’

Prophets and mushy bestseller ‘thinkers’, masters of kitsch and master-minds of eternal conformism, are already predicting a rosy picture, willfully choosing to ignore the bitter realism of contemporary global society in its multipolar methods of madness. Some of them will soon find themselves glorified as the 20 most powerful ‘thinkers’ on glossy covers of sanitized magazines, adorning the coffee  tables of the insulated rich and famous. One of them, among others, are predicting the usual kitsch: that now the world will become more reflective and introspective, people will read good books, listen to classical music, rethink their positions on urbanity, modernity, global warming and ecology, become less selfish, more humane, less individualistic, more collective, that they will demand peace, not war, equality not the vast disparity which is entrenched now, justice not injustice, knowledge not mediocrity. That the pandemic would teach the global civilization to be more heteregenous, less one-dimensional, dogmatic and shallow, less ultra-nationalistic and more do with humility, softer and sensuous sensibilities sans borders.

That, basically, we will all become better human beings.

I presume these prophets should just pick up a seminal book, and written not by a Marxist, prescribed in every social science course in all sensible universities: The Theory of the Leisure Class, first published in 1899. If you reinterpret its theory it will be as simple as this: So why do rich people spend such exorbitant sums of money eating food in luxury hotels? Because: it is not simply food, it is the ambience of the fancy interiors, the manifest prosperity  of a shared class position, the insatiability of desire whereby one desire can only replace another, the assertion of the status quo.

ALSO READ: ‘We Are Going Nuts In Isolation’

So what would a bunch of poor, homeless, hungry people and kids, looking through the glass of this luxurious piece of grand architecture, think about it all: they will reproduce their own emaciated identities, their marginalized helplessness, their abysmal human condition, their own abject absence of humanity, and, above all, their own class position, in this “feudal-barbaric” contradiction of brazen human inequality.

It is one ambience versus another ambience, one history versus another, one country versus another country – with the glass wall as the line of actual control. Check out the contrast between those who live in high-rise buildings and those who are walking down below, migrant workers, often barefoot, with sacks on their heads, as if in a funeral procession driven by death wish.

Writes Jorge Luis Borges (Selected Non-Fictions), “In this book from 1899, Veblen discovers and defines the leisure class, whose strange obligations is the ostentatious spending of money. Thus they live in a certain neighbourhood because that neighbourhood is famous for being the most expensive. Liebermann or Picasso charge huge sums, not because they are greedy, but rather so as not to disappoint the buyers, whose intention is to demonstrate that they are able to pay for a canvas that bears the painter’s signature. According to to Veblen, the success of golf is due to the circumstances that it requires a great deal of land…”

So, will human civilization become better post-pandemic? There is no reason to believe in this hyper-optimism.

In contrast, due to the depression/recession, the supply and demand chain will become more  perverse and anarchic, the economic slump will lead to a rapid onslaught of the greed and profit machine, States will become more repressive and clampdowns might follow, surveillance will become the new normal, the arms industry will come back with a bang looking for new terrains to create many more Warsaws and Aleppos, the pharma and drugs industry will tighten and expand its jaws with new regulations, trafficking would increase, including sex trafficking and slave trafficking, refugees and boat people will cross unmanned boundaries on turbulent oceans and the sea, and the ‘reconstruction industry’ so parasitic and intrinsic to the war industry, will once again flourish in the conflict zones.

In two sentences, the world will become starkly more short, nasty and brutish, more and more Hobbesian, and it will simply come back to do what it has been doing all this while. The pandemic will be just another flash in the pan, reinforcing old, clichéd and inevitable stereotypes, in more vicious and diabolical forms.

However, the virus will remain. Inside the political and social unconscious of human society, in the expressways of forced migrations and lockdowns, in the soul of our pathetic civilizations, inside the skin of the eyes and nails, between the fingers and eyelids, buried inside ironed clothes in cupboards and trunks, and inside the pages of history. Like the last page of The Plague by Albert Camus.

Nirala Greenshire

‘Locked Inside For A Week, We Are Going Nuts’

After two positive cases of Covid-19 were found in his housing society, Nirala Greenshire, Greater Noida, Rupesh Kumar along with 1,000 residents have been living in quarantine since March 22

On the evening of March 22, two of the residents in our society were tested positive of Covid-19. One of them had returned from Denmark a few days back and was staying with his family. He and his mother were tested positive and since then all seven of his family members were put into home quarantine.

All senior officials from city administration, police and health department are camping the society since then. And realizing that the two patients must have come into contact with other residents too, the entire society has been put under a lockdown.

We have been asked to stay indoors and avoid physical contact with anyone. This is nothing short of being quarantine for us. Since then, scores of Aganwadi workers have stormed into the apartments wearing masks and carrying sanitizers and thermometers. Those were the only outside contact with us since last two days. We are anxiously listening to the announcement from our balconies and we can do nothing at all.

ALSO READ: Life In Quarantine Abroad A Ship

The administration said they will sanitize the entire apartment blocks and test each and every suspect to confirm any chances of community spread of Coronavirus pandemic. Our rations are drying, milk is not available, and we are missing simple things like our morning cuppa. Private security guards of the society are helping us with groceries and other daily needs but it’s too little but most of them time half of the stuff we order does not reach us due to short supply.

There are over 1,000 residents in this society and very few security guards so it’s not possible for them to meet everyone’s demand. We are surviving on bare minimum. Since no maids are allowed, we have to clean our flats on our own, cook and wash dishes. We are wearing masks throughout the day till we go to bed. It’s a horrible thing to be put in quarantine like this.

ALSO READ: How Finland Is Coping With Covid-19

We know the gravity of the situation and we are cooperating with the administration but it just happened all too suddenly and we were not ready for this. Since no outsider can enter the society, the milkmen are also not allowed. Those who have small children are totally dependent on security guards who are making sorties on their two wheelers and cycles to buy for those in need. It’s like we are living a bad dream. We don’t know who is contaminated. The fear of catching the disease has made us behave strangely.

The District Magistrate and the Commissioner of Police have asked us to be patient. What else can we do? We are hoping to get out of this situation soon. People are getting anxious. Some residents had verbal spat with cops when they went down without permission. We can only speak to the officers from our balconies.

We have requested the administration to complete the process as soon as possible but we know with such large number of people living in such small area, it’s hard for them too. This incident gives us a lesson to be prepared.

LokMarg team spoke to Rupesh Kumar from his balcony at a distance

‘Lockdown Is Fine, But How To Handle Panic Buyers’

Pankaj, a Delhi resident who went to a local market after Narendra Modi announced 21-day lockdown to combat Covid-19, rues the rush & panic buying at stores

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a 14-hour Janata Curfew, or self-imposed isolation to be observed on Sunday (March 22), people by and large complied. His other appeal to come out of homes at 5 pm and clap as a mark of respect for health workers, however, was followed with extraordinary gusto. People not only came out to clap but also banged utensils, played drums and danced in close proximity, throwing caution to the wind and defeating the real purpose of isolation. But we are like that only.

On Tuesday (March 24) therefore, when Modi announced that the country would go into a 21-day lockdown from midnight onward to combat Coronavirus, what else would you expect from the Delhi residents than flood the market, crowd the grocery stores, and stock up whatever you can lay your hands on? I too stepped out to buy some essentials, and also to watch the tamasha. I wasn’t disappointed on the latter.

WATCH: Are We Prepared For Coronavirus?

Tamasha is the right word to describe what I saw at our local market in Mayur Vihar. Buyers behaved as if the apocalypse was on us. Many youth grabbed as many cigarette packets as their pockets could allow; the family man rushed from vegetable store to ration shop and took home the bucketful of whatever was available; shopkeepers, instead of assuring the customers of enough supply, goaded them into buying large amounts. Even before Modi’s address was over, the entire stock of breads, buns, instant noodles, meat and grain in our local Mayur Vihar market had gone off the shelves. It was sad and funny at the same time.

The buyers were still not satisfied. Many of them made their way for small, unauthorized shops in nearby clusters to stock up more. These shops, run by relaxed locals who had never experienced frantic buying, were at loss of their wits by the onslaught. Unable to keep with the rush and shouts for various items from all corners, they shouted back at the customers. “Police aa jayegi. Ek ek kar ke bolo. Halla matt karo (Police will come, speak at your turn one after another. Don’t make a racket).” Worse was their money management. They fumbled for the right amount of change and repeatedly punched at calculators to get their calculations right. The impatient customers egged them on to make more mistakes.

Petrol pumps were not spared by some panicky vehicle owners. Sedans queued up as if they were going to leave Delhi without thinking that the lockdown was for the entire country. Either, there was no clarity in the PM speech about essential supplies or people hadn’t bothered to sit through the entire address. I received several calls from friends if liquor could be available in my area at this hour.

ALSO READ: ‘Living In Quarantine Was Aweful’

As I moved back to my house with one litre of cooking oil and some onions in my hand, I kept thinking how we are going to tackle the deadly virus and the lockdown if we cannot fight the hoard mentality. And at a larger psyche level, this also proved that even though people follow Modi’s commands as their leader, somewhere in their minds they have little trust in his crisis management ability.

‘Life In Quarantine Aboard An Egyptian Ship Was Awful’

Vanita Rengaraj, 64, was among 17 Indians who were stuck on a Cruise on the Nile when one of the passengers was diagnosed with Coronavirus. Rengaraj recalls her ordeal and the journey return home

I have taught History for 27 years at the NGM College in Pollachi, Coimbatore and it is my love for History that brought me to a close brush with coronavirus. Our 17-member group of senior citizens had left for Egypt on February 29 for a nearly week-long trip, with three nights booked on a cruise ship on the Nile called A Sara.

Things were fine and we were able to enjoy the pyramids, the dams, the temples and even our first day (March 4) on the ship. The following day, chaos and confusion took hold and everyone on the ship was scared because a person on the ship had tested positive of Covid-19, and the tally of affected cases kept increasing and reached 30 (total number of passengers on the ship was 120).

Our ship was in Luxor and by then other parts of Egypt had also started reporting Coronavirus cases. On March 6, Egyptian health officials including 10 doctors made their way to our ship. With my medical history of having various heart conditions (including pacemaker), hypertension, breathing problems, diabetes and thyroid, I was worried I would not have strong immunity and would be infected.

ALSO READ: Pranaam, Corona – Keeping The Virus Away

By March 7 all the tests had been done and only one Indian, a male engineer from Chennai, was seen as a suspect while all other in our lot tested negative for Coronavirus. But our ordeal didn’t end there. The kitchen on the ship had closed down; the dining hall was out of bound; and we were asked not to interact with each other. Due to age many of us were already taking in a lot of medicines and lack of good food (we were given only grilled chicken and rice) we were worried our immunity could go down even further. We were desperate to get out of the ship.

Things began to move only when the Egyptian media took up our case. It is then that my daughter Saranya sprang into action and contacted the Indian media, as well as the Indian and Egyptian embassies. We were moved from Luxor to the military hospital in Alexandria, nearly 500 miles away. From March 7 to March 12 we kept getting more and more worried about our fate. We had tested negative for coronavirus but were unable to leave for India. We were being asked to be in quarantine for 14 days. However, when we had already tested negative there was no point being quarantined in a country where the disease was spreading fast. Meanwhile, my daughter was making frantic calls to all embassies concerned.

Finally a solution was reached after the French and Indian government put pressure on Egyptian authorities. We were allowed to leave Alexandria. I took a flight from Luxor to Cairo, Cairo to Mumbai, and Mumbai to Hyderabad and finally from Hyderabad to Coimbatore and from there I came home to Pollachi via road. All in the span of one single day! Can you imagine how taxing four flights plus travelling by road would have been for a senior citizen in a single day?

WATCH: ‘Coronavirus Is Highly Infectious…’

I am thankful to the Indian embassy officials in Egypt who were very cooperative and calmed our fears. They came with us till the airport. I am also thankful to the flight crew who were attentive to even the smallest discomfort. We were crying while returning home. We would finally be able to see family and friends again. We finally reached India on the night of March 12.

I am still practicing social distance in my home in Pollachi and friends are scared to come and meet me though my husband and I have tested negative for coronavirus. However, I don’t mind. People should better be safe than be sorry. As of now, my work with the various NGOs and the schools for the underprivileged that I run in Tamil Nadu, have come to a halt.

I read about how many Indians are trapped in Italy and would request governments across the world to let those people who have tested negative go back home. We need the support of our families as well as need to support our families in times like these. Also, from now on I have decided to take travel advisories seriously. It is okay to lose money but we should always take care of our health first and foremost.

Pranaam, Corona – Keeping The Virus Away

When Indians first arrived in numbers in United Kingdom, there was general amusement that they avoided hand shaking. Now, hand shaking is de rigour in India. Indians have brought western habits into India instead. Coronavirus, interestingly, is bringing back the practice of social distancing, a practice that was characteristic of Indians before modern times. It may well reintroduce an Eastern cultural practice throughout the world.

Another Indian habit that amused Europeans was the constant hand washing after eating, or touching anything. Clearing the mouth with a quick gargle or rinse after every meal was also common. Handwashing is the other main advice to reduce coronavirus spread.

Social distancing has been part of almost all Eastern cultures. Rarely was intimacy expressed in public in the form of hugging, hand shaking or otherwise. In Japan, people greeted each other by bowing as they still do. Maintaining a healthy distance between individuals is a Japanese cultural practice. The Chinese too traditionally bowed as greeting.

WATCH: ‘Coronavirus Is Highly Infectious…’

Pranaam, or folding hands with a bowed head, was the traditional Indian greeting. It is still the practice but for some reason it is immediately followed by a hand shake. In some parts of India, especially the North, it is often followed by a hug between close friends, relatives and between adults and children especially if they haven’t met for some time.

When did the hug become part of cultural practice? It is intriguing because there isn’t much evidence of it in historical accounts. The handshake certainly started with the British arrival. Early British envoys maintained Indian practices of either bowing, or Pranaam. But as colonialists settled in, handshake became a common form of greeting among the western-educated Indians and the elite. Now it is a universal Indian practice.

Why eastern practices avoided intimacy may have many reasons. Western scholars often blamed caste as one culprit, pointing out that intimacy between higher and lower castes was forbidden. Others suggested a system of general hierarchy. However, even people of same caste and similar hierarchical status avoided intimate greetings. Thus these theories do not stand scrutiny.

ALSO READ: Cases In India Mount To 81; IPL Deferred

Perhaps the habit of avoiding intimacy in public may have arisen from similar pandemics in Indian history that has now gripped the world. The world and Indian history has had quite a few pandemics. Cholera in ancient times and the Bubonic Plague are well known. Smallpox had swept India in ancient times as well (shitala). Bubonic plague is estimated to have killed some 25 million people in India and China around 1340s. The 1817 Cholera epidemic claimed hundreds of thousands of Indian lives and spread to other countries.

Earlier around 540 AD, the so called Justinian Plague had also claimed nearly 15% of world population in Europe and Asia, if not more. The plague had claimed lives both in China and India in large numbers.

It is possible that these experiences had led to the precautionary habit of social distancing in Indian and other Eastern civilisations. In South East, the practice is a combination of Pranaam and bowing, such as in Thailand and Cambodia.

Although some epidemics, such as plague, are carried by fleas and are bacterial and therefore social distancing is unlikely to make much difference, others such as small pox and influenza are restricted by social distancing.

WATCH: Is Delhi Prepared For Covid-19

Coronavirus has also spread with speed in countries like Iran. Its possible because greeting with cheek-to-cheek touch is a common form of greeting in the Middle East between equals. In others, touching the upper arms and forming gestures of cheek to cheek greeting is common. Both reduce the distance between individuals and introduce an element of intimacy that is a free ticket for transmission for a pandemic like coronavirus.

Social distancing is the first line of defence now being promoted across the world in corona virus pandemic. Out goes the hand shake. In comes elbow for the time in western countries. But why not Pranaam with folded hands and a healthy distance between the greeters. Prince Charles did that in the Commonwealth meet.

So out also goes the Modi hug and in comes the traditional Pranaam. It seems Corona virus has given an opportunity for Indian culture to become universalised in one form at least. Bowing in Chinese and Japanese style may be too much for most of the world. But Pranaam with a reasonable distance isn’t difficult.

It will be interesting to see what happens to the Maori nose to nose greeting. If any executive class passage can be offered to Coronavirus, this is one that beats all.

Of course once a person gets corona virus, it is western technology to keep the lungs going that will aid recovery. Many traditional herbal doctors and ayruvedics are claiming treatments options, but there is no evidence anything works other than their bank balances.

Isolation is another strategy for these forms of pandemics. Isolation and bed rest were the treatment of choice in pre vaccine days in India. People lived in smaller villages rather than big cities. Before the current craze for mega cities, over 80% pf Indians lived in manageable villages.  Modern mega cities offer unbound opportunity to a virus such as Corona virus.

It seems every few decades a pandemic sweeps through the world, decimating the population. So far it seems epidemiological knowledge and drastic actions have contained the deaths in China. It remains to be seen what happens when coronavirus invades western countries that put greater emphasis on profits than social welfare such as USA. The cuts in social welfare in the UK along with Brexit may now reveal the cracks. Generally it is thought that the medical systems in both countries will not be able to cope with as much speed and efficiency as China.

Irony will be if both countries, USA and UK, ask China for assistance to build facilities and protective measures. Whereas it takes a year to build a hospital facility in most western countries, China built isolation facilities with machine etc within 2 weeks. Who else has the capacity to do this?

However, it is India that now worries most epidemiologists. The infrastructure, the availability of ITU beds, lung machines, testing facilities will be a challenge that will test the Modi Government. Once it starts spreading, India’s capability will be truly on line. A hope is that Indians may have greater immunity than others.

In the absence of vaccines and other antiviral drugs for this, the two human practices that now are effective in reducing the incidence of spread is social distancing and hand washing. Better bring Pranaam back into India and get rid of the hand shake and restart washing hands frequently even after eating with knives forks and spoons. This virus may go away after a few months, but new ones will emerge. A cultural change in the way we greet and maintain personal hygiene and going back to tradition could be more effective than anything else.

It seems the ancients had evolved practices with care and from experience. Pranaam to them and to all our readers.