New Delhi: The Covid-19 pandemic has brought the world to a screeching halt–  economies across the globe are faltering and most countries have forced people to be under lockdown.

While questions have been raised on the response of world powers like China and the US and the role of the World Health Organisation, the pandemic has also exposed loopholes in the healthcare systems even in developed countries like USA and Italy. It has also exposed xenophobia and racism.

India reported its first case of coronavirus in January, but the cases started to spike in March after which the government imposed a nationwide lockdown.

In the new book, ‘The Coronavirus, What You Need to Know About the Global Pandemic’ co-authors Dr Swapneil Parikh, Maherra Desai and Dr Rajesh Parikh gives us an illustrated account of world’s tryst with pandemics and epidemics at various points in history and the challenges that are ahead of us now. Dr Swapneil is a Mumbai-based physician with interests in the study of infectious diseases, medical literature and future of technology in medicine. Dr Maherra is a clinical psychologist and a medical researcher. The third author of the book, Dr Rajesh is the director of Medical Research and Neuropsychiatry at Mumbai’s Jaslok Hospital. He has a background of training and teaching at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in the US and King Edward VII Memorial Hospital in Mumbai.

Edited excerpts from the interview with the doctors.

 

The surge of coronavirus cases in countries like China, Italy and Iran happened much before it spiked in India. Did India take a cue from the trajectories of these countries and were steps taken enough?

The steps taken can never be enough as the virus is always one or more steps ahead of us. India did it’s best given several other constraints.

The restrictions were imposed in March. Would India fare better at flattening the curve had these restrictions imposed bit earlier?

It is always easy to be wiser looking back. Had the lockdown been done earlier there would have been other social, political and economic repercussions. I alerted our hospital in the last week of January and many thought I was being an alarmist. This is the medical community! By the end of February, I was pleading for mass testing and got accused of spreading panic and fear because less than 50 people were apparently infected in the entire country. So, one should avoid being judgemental by retrospective analysis.

The world now has enough technology and experience of pandemics and epidemics like SARS, E-bola, Swine flu, Zika, etc and how the virus spread becomes exponential within days. What do you think causes the delay in response of countries to prevent the crisis?

Our inability or unwillingness to learn from past experience causes the delay in our response. Our first chapter is on past pandemics and closes with a quote from Lord Byron, “The best prophet of the future is the past.” We wrote it in early February when the problem was perceived as Chinese and largely confined to Wuhan and Hubei province.

Countries with the best medical infrastructure are struggling with rising cases of Covid-19. What changes will this pandemic have on the attitudes and psyche of people, particularly in the developed countries?

Experts have predicted a mental health crisis of epic proportions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nothing on this scale has been experienced in living memory so we are in the midst of a grotesque psychological experiment.

A lot of racial and communal politics has unfolded around the disease. How is it affecting the reporting of cases and curbing further spread of the infection?

Some of this is inevitable given human nature. We need scapegoats. During the plague in the 14th century, Jews and lepers bore the brunt. Marginalised groups are Usually targeted in a crisis across the tragic history of pandemics. Paradoxically they are often the most affected by the illness, stigma and then the blame.

Social media has been brimming with information as well as fake news during this time. How much of a disservice has it caused to the battle of a pandemic?

The effect has been enormous. The World Health Organisation which was very conservative in recognising COVID-19 as a pandemic was quick and rightly so to warn of the ‘infodemic’ of fake news and blatantly false narratives.

Being doctors at a time of a pandemic, how difficult was it to pen down the book?

We drew up an outline and divided areas of interest amongst ourselves putting in an average of 12 hours a day in addition to our professional responsibilities. Maherra and I wrote from late evening to around 5 am. Swapneil started writing around then so as to turn in by 11 pm. In a way, we worked round the clock for eight weeks. We went through 15 drafts with all of us focusing on a rapidly moving target. Maherra has worked with me as a research colleague for nearly 12 years. We could work seamlessly together and with our publisher and her talented team.

The e-book has been published on April 5, 2020 by Penguin Random House India and is now available for readers on various e-commerce websites.