Will the ‘coronavirus’ crisis end? What is the least harmful of all scenarios?

Saudi Former Minister of Health Hamad Almane
Saudi Former Minister of Health Hamad Almane

On March 18, 2020, I had written an article entitled “Panic is more dangerous to us than coronavirus”, in which I gave the advice that it is not necessary to impose a total lockdown nor is it feasible for countering the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) disease.

I said that it is preferable to implement moderate precautionary measures that would stem the spread of the virus, but at the same time, they would not hamper daily life, nor impact the national economy.

However, before I support my previous viewpoint from the perspective of the latest real global developments, I would like to express my pride, as a Saudi citizen, who belongs to this state.

At a time when the world was suffering from a disaster of this magnitude, from the health, economic, social and security aspects, the citizen or expatriate living on the Kingdom’s soil did not feel any of the suffering the peoples of the region and the world were experiencing.

At a time when all the countries isolated themselves, each focusing on the inside to provide the needs of its citizens in countering this pandemic, the Kingdom was taking the initiative and making haste to hold the G20 Emergency Summit, to discuss how to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on the developing countries.

I will present some important facts for all to see here. They are related to the idea of total lockdown in countering this virus. All should understand very well that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infection would not end in a month, nor in a year.

The reason is that it is similar to the Middle East respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (MERS-CoV) that caused the influenza (flu) that began in 2012 and is still existent till this day. But what happened? People developed immunity against MERS-CoV.

This is what is happening with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). There is no way to contain it, but to coexist with it. Of course, along with taking the necessary precautionary measures and the gradual return to normalcy.

For in the case of a total lockdown for several more months, on top of the destructive impacts on the global economies, there will be effects, which we can read in the figures showing huge losses and economic collapses for the big nations and large corporations worldwide, and the scrapping of millions of jobs.

At the same time, horror also causes man to have a weak immunity due to the secretion of cortisone in the body. This causes man to become an easy prey for the virus amid the state of panic that grips some people.

There are people who are susceptible to fear. On top of this, there are the consequences of the total closure and people not leaving their homes for long periods on mental health, especially for the old and young.

This causes innumerable family problems. Not only this, but it leads to disputes and a rise in divorce rates. All the people do not have the same capability to bear staying at home for long periods.

I don’t say that the “herd immunity” policy does not have repercussions but for sure it has consequences. However, they are less harmful than a total lockdown.

There is no better evidence for my viewpoint than that of some countries beginning to reopen their economies gradually and reduce the restrictions to people’s mobility.

This is especially so, when we learn that the victims of common cold in the world annually are about 650,000. This is at a time when 54,000 people die every month at the world level. In Saudi Arabia alone, approximately 14,700 people die due to common cold annually and 1,225 monthly.

We can see that these figures do not exceed the number of deaths due to the COVID-19 virus. Hence, with time it will be difficult to differentiate between the victims of COVID-19 and those of the viruses causing flu.

Nevertheless, we should not downplay the danger of all of these viruses, including the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). We call upon all to protect themselves from these viruses by taking the necessary precautionary measures.

Perhaps the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will be a lesson for all to adopt and strictly follow the rules of public safety, for no tribulation is devoid of a lesson to be learnt.

— The author is a Saudi Former Minister of Health.