Pandemics have struck human history in various eras. Humans spread across the globe so does the infectious outbreaks. Pandemics are nearly constant, though not every pandemic had reached the level as the COVID-19 had. Pandemics can hit any time; all it takes is a right roll of genes in virus circulating among animals or an encounter with humans.
Historically speaking we had spillover events where diseases had jumped from animals to humans. Stanford biological anthropologist James Holland Jones said, “Though we had spillovers in history, what’s different now is that a spillover in one part of the world can have major consequences for the rest of the world, we have engineered a world ripe for pandemics. A pandemic is a rare event, but if you give it enough time, a rare event becomes a certainty.”
We had created a world that is prone to infectious outbreaks, vital to which is quick movement of species around the globe. One of the indicators of pathogen travel is the number of flight connections between cities. Spread of pandemics is efficient and of global scales due to mobile lifestyle. Also due to urbanization, the interaction between natural world and humans has been altered significantly.
Greater the pace of human civilization, greater is the frequency of outbreaks. Widespread trade had created innumerable opportunities for enhanced human-animal interactions which led to increased epidemics. Larger cities, extended trade routes, increased contact with diverse ecosystems and animals amplified the outbreaks frequency.
Coronavirus, the causative agent of COVID-19 circulates in bats but it is not lethal to bat population, but the spill over into other animals and then to humans is deadly. The animal that served as vector between bats and humans is still unknown. The world in its current state is engineered as which makes the emergence of infectious diseases more likely and consequential.
Consequences of a pandemic are far from preordained. But then again the way humans respond to an outbreak is a vital factor. Outbreak similar to COVID-19 occurred in 2003, known as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). It was controlled back then through forceful social distancing, quarantine, testing and treatment. At that time Singapore and Hong Kong were severely affected, they used past experience to subdue COVID-19 and are by far the big success stories. Lessons learnt from past suggest that behavioral changes can be helpful but the timing of changes also matters. As when the outbreak occurs, impact is less but certainty is low, hence prediction is difficult. Soon it grabs pace it becomes more predictable and has noticeable inertia. Epidemics require early responses even when uncertainty is high.
Rapid globalization and interactions are the driving force behind pandemics. From hunters and gatherers to metropolis community, opportunities for pandemics have been ignited. Much is needed to be explored for new coronavirus as compared to previous pandemics. Social distancing and closure of aerospace will stop the pandemic enough to develop a vaccine or to at least soothe the growing impacts.
by: Marria Ghalib