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COVID-19: A pandemic that humbled the human race

What a painful difference a couple of months can make! In the March/April issue of Analytics, I wrote about the emergence of a respiratory novel coronavirus that took China by storm. At that time no one knew the extent of global damage it would create for the human race in the next few months. There was widespread expectation within the World Health Organization (WHO) that the virus, like the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus of the late 1990s, would remain contained within China. Little did we know that this time human civilization would be put to the utmost test of tolerance and misery at lightning speed.

It is incredible how much our world changed since the end of February. Streets of major cities such as London, Madrid, Milan, Paris, New York and San Francisco are all but empty. The world has suddenly come to a standstill, and humans worldwide have receded to the safety of their homes. Economic activities took a nosedive, stock markets crashed, and unemployment and misery rose to depression-era levels in most nations including the United States, Europe and China. An invisible enemy suddenly created a war-like pandemonium across the globe, but no nuclear weapon can end the war this time. 

Powerful Blow to the Human Race

As of this writing, more than 2.2 million people globally have become infected by the virus, and close to 153,000 people have died in 185 countries (based on data tracked by Johns Hopkins University). Some experts believe that the numbers are grossly underreported, owing to various issues including not enough testing and people dying in nursing homes or their own homes due to this disease without being counted. These are mind-numbing statistics – both in terms of the scale of this pandemic and the impact (all but 10 of the 195 countries in the world have been affected). By the time this column is published, the numbers will be much higher. The United States has emerged as the epicenter of this pandemic with more than 700,000 confirmed cases and 33,000 deaths. The White House Coronavirus Task Force projects that the U.S. death count will climb to more than 68,000 by August. If there is a second wave in the fall, the numbers will be even higher. 

To put this in perspective, during the SARS outbreak 8,098 people were affected globally and 774 died, and only eight laboratory-confirmed cases were reported in the U.S. with just one death. During the 1918 Spanish flu (H1N1 virus) pandemic, worldwide about 500 million people were infected and at least 50 million died. In the U.S. alone, 675,000 people died in absence of an antiviral cure, vaccines, ventilators and antibiotics required to treat secondary infection. This was the deadliest pandemic in recent history, but 100 years ago neither medical science nor medical device engineering was advanced enough to prevent such a fast propagating virus. COVID-19 has not reached that level yet, and hopefully it never will, but the disease is still unfolding, and it will be many months before it stops. 


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