My toxic companionship with COVID-19 has now crossed over two years. During this time, I have seen multiple facets of my evil friend. The journalistic vulture in me has pounced on it many times and extracted umpteen stories from the unfriendly virus. But the tender human heart has cursed it every single second and wished for its abrupt end. In these moments of struggle, I have seen the world order change. Normal things became abnormal and what was considered abnormal became a safe way to keep virus at bay.
Coronavirus aka COVID -19 marked its presence in spring last year. Major world health bodies around the world claimed that SARS-CoV-2 transmitted through droplets. The global understanding was that these droplets came out of the nose or mouth of an infected person as he or she coughed, sneezed, or just spoke.
Following this, words like “QUARANTINE” and “ISOLATION” became a part of our phraseology. Masks, sanitizers, and toilet papers became hot property. I remember buying a small bottle of sanitizer at a hefty amount after searching in ten shops in March 2020. I carried it everywhere like a holy relic.
However, the mask culture was still in its infancy. In fact, some health experts also claimed that the masks are fairly ineffective for the average person. “Only people caring for infected people and the infected people themselves need to wear masks,” one of the experts told me once during an interview on the mask shortage. Who knew his claim would not only be false but can also turn fatal if not abided by in the future?
Enter the phase of asymptomatic (patients who have contracted the virus but show no symptoms) and symptomatic patients. Both categories met the same treatment. After it was learnt that someone is COVID positive, a team of COVID task force rushed to their area. Their house was sanitized. All the people in their closer vicinity were traced and tested. The positive ones were at once admitted to the hospital.
I recall talking to several asymptomatic patients, many of whom, felt stigmatized. “The moment, Hospital administration got a whiff of my positive status, a new world with different people appeared before me, who were completely indifferent to my plight. I was made to sit aloof in a room for a long time till an ambulance from Chest Diseases Hospital, Srinagar stopped by the gate. I constantly pleaded with staffers in the ambulance. I told them I will get some clothes and some essential things with me. They didn’t hear a word,” a nurse who was admitted to the hospital told me.
Amid all this, the immunity boosters became a new thing in the markets. There were rumors that they are an effective defense system. “Immune system is a very complex security system consisting of different types of cells and antibodies and hundreds of enzymes and reactions. Puzzled, some people are taking daily vitamins in order to boost immunity and I wonder if many of them may land into ‘hypervitaminosis’ a dangerous outcome of excessive intake of vitamins particularly A and D,” a doctor told me that time.
Talking of remedies, drugs like hydroxychloroquine and plasma therapy began trending. I remember tweeting and retweeting many requests for plasma donation. “Those who have tested positive for COVID should be fully recovered. Plasma therapy contains antibodies and are used in somebody who has an actual infection. It has no side effects except the pain of needle prick,” a consultant told me once. However, presently ICMR has dropped plasma therapy and it no longer stands as an effective treatment. The same goes for hydroxychloroquine, which is an outdated drug in current times.
Gradually, coronavirus became less visible as winter set in. Complacency and laxity replaced all the precautionary measures and all the SOPs were thrown to the wind. The much-dreaded mass gatherings followed and traveling took precedence.
With the onset of Tulip festival during march 2021, tourists came in large numbers. As a result, 1064 flights carrying 1.10 lakh passengers arrived at the Srinagar Airport. Such was the rush that large queues of people were seen outside Tulip Garden to receive the entry tickets without maintaining social distance.
However, the highest number of flight and passenger arrivals was recorded in April 2021 when a total of 1077 flights touched down at the tarmac of the Srinagar Airport ferrying as many as 80630 passengers.
From April 5 the coming events began to cast their dark shadows. The hospital in the valley witnessed a surge in the number of patients with respiratory symptoms and other new unreported symptoms of COVID-19. Surprisingly, many of them were young – which was not the case last year.
That said, we sent them home because there was no indication of any severe infection. “Much to our surprise, many among the same young patients took a turn for the worse at home. As a result, they had to be brought to the hospital and put on high-flow oxygen. The reasons can be attributed to the mutant strains,” a doctor posted in the ICU told me.
Come mid-April this year, all the hell broke loose. The dreaded bilateral pneumonia and full-blown lung involvement in young patients kept on increasing.
Consequently, their deaths became a new normal and medical oxygen became the pivot around which the world revolved.
Of late, new SOPs have called for well-ventilated spaces and double masking to prevent the transmission of `airborne’ COVID-19 as the virus can remain airborne up to a distance of 10 meters via smaller aerosol particles.
Along with more death and destruction, the virus this time has led to the resurgence of a rare deadly disease – the black virus that can prove fatal or leave one seriously affected. We lie in dread each day, as new symptoms come up alongside old ones, and we can only watch from the sidelines – helpless, mute, and resigned. The world has come full circle and the ghosts of this summer seem to be no kinder than of the previous year. With apologies to Tennyson – for men may come and go, but COVID will go on forever!
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