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Nightmare without end

My long experience in nuclear medicine and associated oncology gives me the confidence to suggest that radiation at an early stage may just melt and then dissolve the paws of the virus. Some distinguished persons have suggested vaccines. This is a splendid idea in principle but it will take at least four to five months before the vaccine is ready for general use. By that time, many lives will be lost. It is imperative to find a drug almost immediately, even by “random” methods to kill the virus before they spread their “tents” in abundance

Bikash Sinha | New Delhi |

April is the cruellest month, Breeding lilacs out of the dead land, Mixing memory and desire, Stirring dull roots with spring rain. ~ T. S. Eliot in The Waste Land.

Man is now fighting a global war, hitherto unknown to mankind. The enemy is not visible, it has no weapons, its target is any living creature. From bats, the coronavirus, has now targeted human beings. The virus, the carrier of the infection, is spreading rapidly through physical contact, or through sneeze or even a cough. One sneeze from a corona affected person contains enough corona droplets to infect an entire community. The virus has infected the very soul of mankind access the globe. Historians will record 2020 as a devastatingly horrible year, a nightmare without end, the scale and the magnitude of which are unprecedented.

It has been reported that the deadly virus originated from the bats in the caves of Wuhan district in China. It has turned out to be more devastating than the entire war arsenal of the US, China and Russia. It has easy access to the entire world; the carriers are the humans. Or is it product of a laboratory experiment in China which went horribly wrong? We shall never know. The increase in the number of victims is exponential, not linear which roughly means doubling of the number of patients in two to three days’ time. This scenario is virtually impossible to tackle medically. India, so far has escaped this predicament. The present crisis has been compared to the Second World War. No, this is not right. During the war, the weak hearted could escape to a place that was neutral; but in the present case no one can escape, because there is no place to escape. So humans are captive prisoners of the covid pandemic.

The jail is our blue earth. The situation can be marginally compared with the holocaust faced by the Jews and inflicted by Hitler. Now we have millions of Hitlers ~ the coronavirus is 400 to 500 micrometres in size. The virus evidently thrives in the human body, its mild warmth, the flesh where it can plant itself by placing its paws firmly on the flesh and then proceed to multiply; growth of the “tents”, if unchecked, can result in death. I am somewhat surprised to note that drugs are being tried out rather randomly. These include anti-malaria tablets (Hydroxychloroquine), a special form of paracetamol, anti-HIV drugs even antiallergy drugs. Clearly, we are still groping in the dark.

The virus has caught us completely unprepared. Looking at the paws of the virus and its somewhat large size ~ 400 to 500 micrometres ~ it occurred to me, “Why not use radiation to burn out these paws, just as we try to do for cancer tumours”. Do pardon me readers, I am a scientist not a specialist in virus by any means, but please give it a try, especially in the early stages. It is just a thought. My long experience in nuclear medicine and associated oncology gives me the confidence to suggest that radiation at an early stage may just melt and then dissolve those paws. Some distinguished persons have suggested vaccines.

This is a splendid idea in principle but it will take at least four to five months before the vaccine is ready for general use. By that time, many lives will be lost. It is imperative to find a drug almost immediately, even by “random” methods to kill the virus before they spread their “tents” in abundance. Old-timers of Kolkata are aware of the lockouts leading to closure of factories during Leftist rule. Now the most effective method to halt the escalation of coronavirus is to “lock down” with the inevitable slowdown of the economy, loss of jobs, and food inflation. The people who are locked in or are in selfimposed isolation are probably safe, but the poor migrant workers who have been thrown out of work have no home to go to; nobody seems to care for them; they are destined to suffer and walk hundreds of kilometres without food or shelter, Coronavirus is merciless; the Government is impotent, NGOs are locked in.

The scenario is most pathetic. Still, we haven’t done too badly. No theoretical model that my fellow scientists have crafted for the future trend of the virus has worked for India. For Spain, Italy, Britain, France and the US, the coronavirus cases are still on the rise. Italy and the US and now Spain are the worst cases. But, in Bengal, in particular, it seems to have gone over the peak, a splendid and brave job done by the Chief Minister, right from the beginning of the crisis. America’s Johns Hopkins University may feel happy to predict smugly that in India the virus will spread. The forecast is off the mark. Exponential growth in the number of patients means doubling the number of patients in two to three days’ time. This is certainly not the case in West Bengal and India as a whole. It is common knowledge that the immunity level of Indians is much higher than an average European or an American. Here, we have to fight against odds to keep our body and soul together.

The impact of this pandemic on the sociological, economic, psychological, and family life cannot be measured and is probably irreversible. Prolonged social isolation leads to social disintegration. In the private domain, close proximity often leads to irritation even violence. The value system that binds society has become fragile over time. The economy has suffered the biggest setback. If a meltdown happens, it will have a global fall out. Any major bankruptcy will also have global consequences. This is the indirect strength of the virus. So much for globalisation. It appears that the strongest economies of the world are the worst affected. The instance of America comes readily to mind.

Coronavirus, is therefore quite revolutionary in the classical sense. It has also taught the restless leaders to stay put and avoid the dazzling glamour of continuous travel across the world. The US had to swallow the humble pie and ask for the simple nonmalarial drugs from India. Thousands are dying in the US and in Europe, and the world is a silent spectator. “The pandemic cannot touch us, we are the most powerful”, was the proud boast of the United States. It is now irrelevant. The clock seems to have turned back. Circumstances have compelled us to avoid adda.

We have to avoid getting together in large numbers and ironically keep our distance from each other. It is quite possible that man will feel lonely. The bravado of the brave new world of advanced technology has fallen apart. Even CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, probably the most advanced technological invention, is closed. Trashed is the vanity of man. His existence has turned out to be fragile.

(The writer is INSA Senior Scientist Former Homi Bhabha Professor, Department of Atomic Energy Former Director VECC & SINP, Kolkata)