COVID-19 pandemic has so far killed 211,159 people across the world (according to John Hopkins tracker at 10:37 am IST, 28th April 2020).
How does Corona Kill Humans?
Most doctors & medical professionals have explained since the beginning of the pandemic that the virus enters the body thru nose, mouth, ears when humans who have been in proximity of an infected human touch their face (which is why the emphasis on don’t touch your face, wash your hands with soap etc).
The virus then take 3–4 days within the throat area before showing up flu symptoms, by which time, it moves down into the lungs. Once inside the lungs, it latches on the cells that make dark mucus getting them to produce more mucus. The immune system now kicks in and produces anti-bodies to fight the invader. But the virus seems to confuse the immunity system and they start killing healthy cells/tissue too — so you get more damage instead of less from the immune system.
Further, the continued presence of virus may kick off cytokines in large quantity, which together with lack of oxygen due to diminished ability to pump oxygen, leads to multi-organ failure. Scientists believe that pre-existing conditions — diabetes, heart disease, respiratory problems accelerate this due to lower immunity.
I am not a medical professional and there could be some errors in my description of what “kills humans” due to COVID, but that’s not my main argument in this article. The thoughts below are.
How Does Corona Kill Humans? Economically.
“Lives v/s Livelihoods” has been the topic of much debate since the lockdown began. As economic activity came to a forced shutdown (some of the most severe shutdown was in India, one of the poorer countries), we saw migrant labourers hit the roads seeking to return to their homes/villages for lack of transport and many died on the way; poor people without rations / food in most big cities leading to huge humanitarian effort by governments and civil society to feed them; daily wage earners devastated by the shutdown of opportunities flocking to bus stations in the hope that they could go home.
Here is how Corona kills economies. And collapsing economies kill lives.
As number of +ve Corona cases start to rise, countries that begin to see early cases and incidences, start advising citizens of washing hands, maintain hygiene and social distance and assure residents that everything is normal and under control. Some of the most stupid countries have ministers who declare in Parliament that Corona will have no impact on their economies. Their cronies spread misinformation, shoot down science and sing ‘all is well”. This is Phase 1 of COVID in the economy, while the virus is establishing itself in the country and spreading thru air, contact and exchanges at offices, markets, transport, airports, restaurants, sports events etc. Now one can equate this with the Phase 1 of COVID inside a human host — first 3–4 days it irritates your throat, may give you a headache and may even look like flu fever. You breathe some more, pop some pills and dont worry about the “flu”.
However, as the rate of +ve cases doubling increases, most countries, who have been under-prepared to deal with pandemic emergency of this kind (even though experts have warned of such possibility for years), who waste crucial 30–60 days in ignoring the Corona impact in Wuhan, who know they don’t have hospitals to handle quick rise of patients, PPE for their medical staff, N95 masks, medicines start to panic and can see the health system overwhelmed shortly in the future, impose economic lockdown across the nation.
The ones that are scared the most, and where the poor people don’t have much choice go for absolute national lockdown, even in districts that don’t have a single case while others that value their economic freedom and freedoms to get infected do this slowly.
This is akin to the virus moving into the lungs of the host human and finding the cells that have the protein it can unlock with its RNA.
Modern countries rely on their economies for their daily “breathing” requirements — the exchange of goods and services keeps everyone fed, occupied, tax revenue coming in and wheels of “growth” moving forward. As soon as all / nearly all economic activity is stalled, demand for goods and services falls off the cliff and nearly every business, every organisation finds itself with zero / near zero revenue and large fixed cost, liabilities with huge uncertainty ahead of itself. As revenues dive to zero, every business, organisation, individual go into a “spending freeze”, preserving cash for the most critical needs, delaying payments that can be delayed, missing EMIs, postponing renewal subscriptions etc. This is the defence mechanism of modern organisations / individuals to fight the “invader”, the demand collapse.
Like over-production of Cytokines in the body, excessive liquidity squeeze begins to then “kill” healthy organisations (similar to tissues) as organisations start to ramp down costs — jobs are lost, debts turn bad / non-performing, supply chains get broken, labor resources disintegrate and revival of the economic engine looks harder and harder.
About 30–45 days into lockdowns, poor countries now enter the critical Phase 3, much similar to COVID patients with existing pre-conditions.
Richer countries can avoid complete liquidity freeze by supporting their businesses and industry with financial packages, paying partial employee salaries thru payroll protection (Singapore, UK, US, Germany among others). This may keep consumer spending high and protected.
Countries having poor economic health (existing medical conditions is the parallel) clearly cannot do this — their governments are facing the double whammy of unprecedented spends on health, policing, feeding the poor and rapidly declining tax collections squeezing their “breathing” space.
As the economic collapse takes away its small businesses, turns middle class employees into unemployed, squeezes debt liquidity leading to freeze on debt funds/bank deposits, and public clamours for economic support and package poor governments do VCs helplessly, and preach “all will be well” using all channels of media engagement. The largest companies with their lawyers start using “Force Majeure” clauses; blue chips look at filing bankruptcies, biggest employers look to enforce work-without-pay and SMEs watch as announcements and good intentions stay at 30,000 feet instead of hitting bank accounts.
Instead of lending a helping hand and providing support for dwindling finances, poor governments first ask citizens to lend a hand, be a good Samaritan, help themselves and each other and then move to raising taxes (petrol cess, pandemic cess, liquidity cess — anything that will govt more resources to manage its war on the virus). As this draws financial stress draws longer, with poor governments unable to get off the lockdown tigers, extend lockdown period after period with no clue to how to manage the disease risk should lockdowns be lifted.
This leads to rising discontent across all segments of the population. The poorest are by now clutching at their last straws — being 60 days without jobs for daily wage earners is debilitating; 40% SMEs are shut down and the next wave of shutdowns looms; bank executives work on NPA sheets daily and all numbers are unbelievable; rising food shortages (manufacturing gets affected too you see, so processed foods disappear after 40–45 days) leading to rising prices and angry voices on social media.
The silent ones suffer in silence. Mental pain and the feeling of helplessness begins to kill. The louder ones take to the streets. Food riots, market riots (Lebanon), protest against employers (Surat) begin to rise and the governments still can’t do much. COVID has reached peak Phase 3 infection to the economy — all the ventilators for the economy are failing and death is inevitable.
What will be the extent of deaths due to economic failure? We will wait and see.