Second Wave - A Wake-Up Call

Patterns exist in our seemingly patternless lives, and the most common pattern is the circle.

- Dean Koontz

Speaking of patterns, I remember someone saying that the patterns we perceive are determined by the stories we want to believe. The stories might relate to fashion, your favourite stock, or it can be the stories of Corona.

However, if the patterns are broken, a new world begins to emerge. This is why I decided to blog on the second wave of Corona when people have started creating their own stories based on all the charts, patterns, and gossip.

Over the last few months, the country eased out completely from previous restrictions, with all sectors encouraging borders to reopen. However, the sudden surge in the number of new daily cases has been exponential, and there is no doubt that the second wave will be more severe than it was last year, at least if the steep rise is any indication. In fact, since 15th February, the number of cases has increased to more than 10-fold.

Some experts have said that the current wave is propelled by emerging mutant variants – notwithstanding the Government's denial. Natural evolutionary changes in the virus have rendered it more transmissible than previous strains.

The second wave of coronavirus is said to have brought new symptoms of the infection. While the usual symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, body ache, loss of smell and taste, chills, breathlessness, several studies suggest that red eyes, gastronomical conditions, and hearing impairment are becoming new symptoms.

If you were to believe irresistible mathematical models from different groups, India would witness unprecedented growth in cases, much more than what it saw in the first wave.

Even with a conservative estimate of 100,000 cases each day in the entire country, we will require 5,000-10,000 beds every day for critical care and the corresponding oxygen supply (assuming 5-10% would require hospitalization). At this rate, cases will accumulate faster and will cause the health system to collapse way before anybody could imagine.

What history tells about the second wave

If there is anything in history that resembles what is now happening to the country, then it would be the Spanish Flu pandemic that had devastated India during the 1918-1920 period. This flu had estimated to have killed between 50 to 100 million people worldwide, of which 17 – 18 million belonged to Indian Soil. This is the highest and fastest death rate ever for any epidemic in India's history. It far exceeds the 10 million deaths from the 1896 Plague, which ran over two decades.

The outbreak most severely affected younger people in 20–40, with women suffering disproportionately. The disease's spread got exacerbated by a failed monsoon and the resultant famine-like conditions that had left people underfed and weak and forced them to move into densely populated cities.

In his memoirs, the Hindi poet, Suryakant Tripathi, wrote, "Ganga was swollen with dead bodies." The sanitary commissioner's report for 1918 also noted that all rivers across India were clogged up with bodies because of a shortage of firewood for cremation.

The mysterious flu was marked in its First Wave by relatively low mortality among the very young and old. This did not guarantee any immunity to the deadly second wave, though. India's first wave began its spread fast as Indian soldiers who were asymptomatic carriers returned by train to their home towns and villages from World War 1.

However, the death rates were not high enough to create alarm, given that the war and other illnesses were taking a greater toll. It was when the virus underwent a sudden mutation in its antigenic nature that the pandemic left its mark on global and Indian demographics – this time among the most productive age group of 20–40-year-olds.

In India, the mortality among young women in the reproductive age group was exceptionally high, resulting in a 30% drop in the birth rate for 1919.

The similarities between instructions issued during the Influenza of 1918 regarding protective protocols and how to make a face mask and those issued today are startlingly similar…100 years later!

This i