Crash of Airplane PK8303 in Karachi

Following policy brief was issued by PPLDM on 23 May, 2020, after the tragic passenger plane crash in Karachi.

PK8303, an Airbus A320 passenger plane belonging to Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), en route from Lahore, was approaching to land at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi when it crashed into a residential area. According to reports that have come out so far, the airplane made an attempt to land which was aborted and, as the plane circled around and made a second attempt, it missed the runway by only a few hundred feet, an extremely short distance in aviation terms, and collided with houses in a densely-crowded residential area called “Model Colony,” destroying several of them. The pilot issued a mayday just before this happened.

The airplane was carrying 91 passengers and eight crew (according to reports so far). At least 80 people are confirmed dead. It is unclear yet if the dead were all onboard the plane or if the toll includes people on the ground where the plane crashed. Households in Pakistan tend to have a lot of family members and, because of coronavirus, a lot of people across Pakistan are indoors. The plane crash took place during Ramadan, when Muslims are often homebound during afternoon, although due to the time of crash coinciding with Friday prayer, most men were out of their homes, praying at mosques. Therefore, it is likely that many people were in the houses that were struck. On the other hand, the plane was half-full because of covid-19 fears and related regulations. Due to the crash taking place at the end of an hour-long flight, the amount of jet fuel involved in the resultant fire is low. Two passengers so far are confirmed as having survived the crash, along with 11 or so people from the neighborhood who are reported to be injured. That of course means that they are still alive as I write. Whether their lives will be saved altogether, we have to wait and see for the following days and weeks. Right now, first responders and rescue workers are valiantly working to retrieve bodies from the rubble as fires rage and smoke billows at the site of airplane’s wreckage and surrounding houses and streets.

The plane crash comes just before the arrival of the Eid-ul-Fitr holidays and days after coronavirus lockdown was lifted in Pakistan and commercial flights were allowed. This tragedy comes at a very difficult time for Pakistan and for the whole world. Five million people have already been infected by the coronavirus globally, most of them in a handful of countries. Pakistan is one of the countries where the pandemic is at medium level. Domestic flights were allowed so that Pakistanis could return to their hometowns to spend Eid. PK8303 was one of the planes filled with such people. Due to the crash, a state of emergency was declared in hospitals across Karachi, at a time when hospitals and healthcare workers across the nation are already overstretched. Taking care of people injured due to the plane crash will be a challenge if the injured turn out to be a lot. The upside is that healthcare facilities are on high alert at all times due to the pandemic, so they have been able to respond rapidly. However, providing care to plane crash victims is very different from caring for coronavirus patients, as former requires trauma and burn units.

Information has been coming out rapidly about the crash. Recordings of communications with air traffic control reveal that the pilot made an attempt to land which was aborted, telling air traffic controllers that it was because of a technical issue. He circled around and made a second attempt when he reported loss of engine power. He then issued a mayday alert before the transmission ended, upon which the plane crashed. Reports suggest that the first landing attempt failed because landing great did not deploy. The pilot was told to climb to higher altitude but the plane apparently lost power and was gliding when it missed the runway. It is believed that both the plane engines failed. Reportedly, the tail end of the plane struck the ground first. Survivors must have been from the front part of the plane. Eyewitnesses are reported to have said the airplane was on fire before it crashed on the ground. Right now, we can only conjecture about the cause of the crash. We might get a clear idea of how the accident happened when we open up the black box.

Failure of the jet engines is the likely cause of the crash, but what was the cause of engine failure? If both engines failed and failure of the landing gear also happened, it means the plane suffered from multiple technical faults. In such case, there could have been technical defect/s in the plane that were missed during routine inspections. However, engine failure can also happen if something collides with the engines of a jet airplane. Jet engines, which face forward and suck in air with tremendous force to provide power and thrust, become extremely vulnerable if any object is ingested. Even ice sloughing off the airplane can cause damage. The turbines can be seriously damaged and even fail. Usually, it is collision with birds that causes this sort of thing. Bird strikes are one of the world’s biggest aviation hazards, causing damage even to airplane parts other than engines. This might have happened with flight PK8303 today.

At present, there is another strong speculative candidate that may have struck the airplane in Karachi, locusts. Since December of last year, desert locusts have been swarming across eastern Africa and western Asia in truly biblical numbers. In Pakistan, massive swarms caused a state of emergency to be declared in February and are only getting stronger. Sindh has been suffering from dreadful attack of locusts for months now, even breeding in much of the province right now, and Karachi has been experiencing swarms for the first time since 1961. Could it be possible, then, that collision with locusts caused the airplane to lose control? Desert locusts are very large insects with very tough cuticle exoskeletons. Their swarms can be very dense. A lot of damage can be caused if a plane runs into a swarm and collides with a large number of these insects.

The Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) once issued a warning to pilots in 2010 about the dangers of flying through a locust swarm. The warning said it could cause loss of engine power and loss of visibility, as expected, and the locusts could also block the aircraft’s pitot tubes, causing inaccurate airspeed readings. (https://www.couriermail.com.au/news/national/aircraft-warned-to-avoid-flying-in-locust-plague-areas/news-story/f3710161cfa721e6cd69898c7dd97402)

If run-in with either a swarm of locusts or a flock of birds happened to PK 8303, it could explain why both engines failed at the same time. The animals would have gone into both. Loss of visibility probably did not happen, or the pilot would have reported it. However, if locusts clogged up the airspeed reading device, it could have prevented the pilot from being able to accurately land his plane on the runway, causing the aborted landing attempt and maybe even the plane flying into the neighborhood next to the runway. Bird or locust strikes are a high possibility when a plane is at low altitude. If a big and dense flock of swarms is involved, eyewitnesses should be able to spot and report them.

Alternatively, even only a few birds could have been responsible for downing the airplane. If so, could it still be connected with the locust outbreaks? Whenever a plane suffers a serious bird strike, it is often because there is large number of birds in the air. More birds entail a greater likelihood of bird-plane collisions. Could it be, then, that the PIA airplane crashed because of collisions with birds that were following the locusts? With such large locust swarms, one should expect that birds will also be gathering in large number to prey on locusts. Even if no locusts were present in Karachi today, birds may have been crossing the city on their way to locust hunting. We need to examine whether the locust plagues have been causing a denser gathering of birds in the sky.

PPLDM has been deeply concerned about the tremendous damage to our food supply that the locusts have been wreaking. While air travel is slowly resuming as coronavirus restrictions ease, we also need to be on the lookout for the additional traffic hazards that locust swarms pose. They could even be a hazard to traffic on the road, including motorcyclists. Studies have suggested people on motorbikes can be seriously injured if they collide with flying insects, presumably of kinds much smaller than locusts, at high speed. As we strive to ensure that the coronavirus pandemic is not worsened by people flying by air, we need to take into account another distinct hazard these days, avian threats to plane’s structure, and issue proper aviation warnings on this hazard. We are already ensuring that the virus is not transmitted inside airplanes by issuing SOPs. What is the SOP on avian hazard warning, a particularly high concern at present? We also need to educate media about this hazard so it can pressurize civil aviation management to cancel flights if plausible extraneous hazards are detected.

Also, because today’s plane crash in Karachi took place during the coronavirus pandemic and an unprecedented drop in global air travel, we should also consider if there is a connection between the two. The grounding of airlines for months and the disruptions caused by the pandemic might have resulted in lax maintenance and inspection of aircraft. I imagine that the keeping up of air safety standards could have been running into some challenges during an unprecedented time like this which nobody has prepared for or is used to. If a passenger jet crashes right after the country’s air travel has resumed following a record-breaking hiatus, and while air traffic is under high burden due to the Eid holidays (trying to keep passengers apart and boarding low when so many people must be trying to get on a plane), there is a good chance it is not a coincidence.

Still, this plane crash is far from unusual within Pakistan or for a Pakistani airliner, unfortunately. Pakistan has a poor air safety record. Major air accidents with significant casualties have occurred every few years throughout the nation’s history. Since the start of this year alone, there have already been five plane crashes before PK8303, though they were all of small aircraft with few people involved. The first was an aircraft that was spraying pesticides to fight locusts when it crashed on January 12, killing two people onboard, and the rest were of military aircraft, including a fighter jet crashing at Shakar Parian Islamabad while practicing for Pakistan Day parade. Two of the military crashes caused fatalities of people onboard.

The enormous tragedy that has occurred in Karachi today has delivered shock and trauma to a nation reeling under the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic and locust plagues and will dampen the spirit of Eid celebrations for us all – celebrations that have already been physically suppressed due to the virus. This is the first time in a few years that a massive and sudden tragedy occurred in Pakistan just before the start of Eid holidays marking the end of Ramadan. The other time was on June 25, 2017, when an oil tanker on a highway in rural Punjab crashed and ignited spilt oil while a huge crowd of people was present, killing more than two hundred and injuring many more. (See “Tragedy at Bahawalpur” at https://pldmsite.wordpress.com/2017/07/20/first-blog-post/)

History has also repeated itself with this sudden high-casualty disaster occurring in Pakistan while the nation is coping with a much larger crisis of longer duration. Ten years ago, on July 28, an Airbus A321, Airblue Flight 202, crashed in the Margalla Hills north of Islamabad due to heavy fog and rainfall, killing all 152 on board, just as two months of monsoon rainfall began that would cause record-breaking floods submerging a fifth of Pakistan, killing 2,000 Pakistanis, and directly affecting 20 million. To this day, Airblue Flight 202 remains the deadliest aviation accident in Pakistan’s history and the 2010 monsoon floods the biggest natural disaster to ever strike Pakistan in terms of the number of people impacted.

2020 is a year of enduring challenges and countless tragedies for the world. As our nation grapples with the tragedy that transpired on 22 May, the difficult truth is that we have to continue to contend with tremendous challenges and crises in the days ahead and for the foreseeable future. There will be no respite. Eid is always supposed to be a joyous occasion for Muslims everywhere, but this Eid, we cannot go out for customary shopping, festivities, and social gatherings on account of social distancing. Widespread food shortages and economic hardships also persist across the nation. The least we hoped for was that people be able to spend Eid with their loved ones, but now, around 100 or so Pakistani Muslim families will be deprived forever of a beloved member. They will spend Eid in deep mourning and the rest of us will spend Eid with dampened spirit.

We may be bewildered by the way so many adversarial circumstances are coming together to harm us, but we must persevere. We must resolve that we will endure the hardships we are going through and be strong in the face of the losses we have suffered. Furthermore, we have to be adaptable, innovative, and smart in the face of everything that this year is throwing at us. It is the only way we can overcome the highly complex and novel challenges that Pakistan and the entire world is going through. This is a time of enormous struggle for our nation. There is no way to tell when the struggle will be over and where it will lead us, but we have to continue fighting with determination and do anything we can to fight back. When we succeed, we will emerge from this era stronger than before.

CIVIL UNREST & VIRUS TRANSMISSION

Following is a COVID-19 issue brief from PPLDM.

On 10 March, a choir rehearsal was held by the Skagit Valley Chorale in Washington State, USA, where the coronavirus pandemic was just beginning to take hold. Lasting two and a half hours, it was attended by 56 people who took precautions such as keeping social distance and using hand sanitizer.

Within weeks, 45 of those people were diagnosed with COVID-19. Two of them died of it. There is little doubt that the choir practice is the cause of this huge cluster of cases. But how could the virus have spread so widely in the room given that it is unlikely that more than a few infected people were present?

At the time of the choir practice, the WHO downplayed concerns regarding the virus spreading widely through the air. The Washington disaster forced experts to rethink this. It is believed that, by singing, infected individuals emitted large amounts of viral particles into the air from respiratory tract. As a result, the choir rehearsal became a super-spreading event (an event that transmits the virus to an unusually high extent.).

It shows that we have to be very careful about events which involve people congregating densely in large numbers. A ‘small number of gatherings’ could be responsible for a high number of COVID-19 transmission. Regulating such gatherings could help us go a long way in slowing the pandemic. Restricting any potentially super spreader activity can sometimes be challenging, especially if the activity happens discreetly, or participants are too numerous to handle easily. Otherwise, it is fairly easy to track and suppress large gatherings of people.

There is, however, one kind of mass gathering that is always very difficult to disperse or control – civil unrest. Whether in the form of peaceful demonstrations or rioting, protesting has been a common feature all over the world, especially during last year. People gather in large number to vent their anger and discontent or to voice their demands in a manner that is disruptive because they mean to create an impact. Demonstrations are effective only when people crowd densely at certain vital spots, usually frequented by lots of other people.

Such disturbance happening while the pandemic is in full swing is a recipe for disaster. It will involve very large number of people tightly packed together. They will be chanting and shouting, thus expelling respiratory particles in thick amounts. The protestors will often come into proximity with a lot of other people like bystanders and law enforcement. Protests are therefore a major coronavirus hazard that Pakistan needs to be wary of as it battles the outbreak.

Should the circumstances be ripe for fermenting protest, dealing with the threat will be a huge challenge. By their very nature, protests are difficult for the authorities to block or control without resorting to actions repugnant to human rights values. The alternative is for the authorities to defuse the tensions that cause protests. Also, when people are aware of what is at stake, they themselves might avoid protesting out of concern for the outbreak. The pandemic is a crisis so big that we might expect people to avoid doing anything to further worsen it en masse.

However, the danger that protests and civil disturbances will break out in Pakistan while the coronavirus outbreak is occurring is very high. We have already seen coronavirus protocol being violated a lot by large numbers of people. Angry people are especially likely to disregard rules or concern for the safety of themselves and their fellow human beings. There will be a lot of anger as the pandemic brings massive disruption and misery to Pakistan. This is going to be a very difficult time for Pakistanis, who may resort to demonstrating due to hard circumstances even when nobody is clearly at fault for such circumstances. For example, in recent years, we have seen angry protests in Pakistan over water shortages, with poor people demanding that water be delivered, even if the water supply to a lower riparian state like us falls short during a season. Since rioting in the sun can make one a lot thirstier, it demonstrates that people will eagerly engage in such confrontational behavior even if it worsens the problem they are angry about.

What worsens the risk for us is that the authorities are likely going to be directly responsible for much of the hardship people will experience. This pandemic is driving governments everywhere to impose a slew of restrictions on all aspects of life for an extended period. Such policies are damaging people’s livelihood and are extremely unpopular with many across the world. These policies will bear down especially hard on Pakistan’s poor and lower-income people. They might see what is being done to them as a bigger source of anguish than an invisible virus killing a relatively small number of people. Plus, if drastic measures are successful in keeping the virus under control (therefore keeping the death count small), ordinary people might assume COVID-19 is not a serious threat to begin with and that the restrictions they are made to bear are unnecessary. So the motivation to engage in protests will grow higher as the reason to avoid protest decreases.

Protests have already happened since coronavirus became an emergency in Pakistan. Early on, there were protests by the pilgrims quarantined in Taftan over the conditions they were being held in, but their protest most likely created no risk that they were not already exposed to. On April 6, there was a protest by 150 doctors, who are the people who should know the best about what their behavior entailed, in Quetta over lack of personal protective equipment for those treating COVID-19. This protest also perhaps did not create new danger, except that the police arresting them provided opportunity for virus transmission.

Of much more concern, a major protest movement occurring during the COVID-19 crisis was launched against the detention of Jang Geo’s Mir-Shakil-ur-Rehman, who was arrested by NAB on 12 March over suspicion of corruption (specifically a bribe he was alleged to have taken from then Punjab Chief Minister Nawaz Sharif way back in 1986). The protests, which still continue, have often involved protestors crowding together in the typical manner. This unrest happening seems especially unbelievable as the grievance seemingly has nothing to do with coronavirus and there are much more important things to worry about. But, as it always turns out to be the case with anything happening during this pandemic, Mr. Rehman’s imprisonment is relevant to COVID-19 in important ways. Prisoners are among the people most vulnerable to the pandemic, as prisons are very fertile places for the disease to spread, so arresting him puts him at risk at a time when police around the world are considering letting people off for charges that do not urgently require detention. Also, media’s role in reporting on the coronavirus crisis is immensely important and a large media group like Jang Geo’s services should be particularly valuable now. Its owner’s arrest has hampered smooth functioning of Jang/Geo network and salaries to hundreds of employees have been halted. It is therefore a highly contentious issue, but it is a bad idea for his supporters to contest the matter in the way they have been doing.

These examples may, unfortunately, be the beginning. There is going to be turmoil in Pakistan. Fear and suspicion of authorities will be rife among the people as hugely controversial policies are pursued. Security forces will be overstretched. There appears to be plenty of mishandling of critical matters by the authorities. As the outbreak continues, Pakistan may resort to imposing lockdowns and quarantines even more, creating the perfect conditions for an outbreak of popular discontent that could greatly worsen the situation we are in. Preventing this from happening will be a huge challenge.

The quickest way for authorities is to break up protests by force. In ordinary circumstances, this is usually done only for disruptive or violent riots. But now, government may feel the need to use force for any protest in which people crowd together. A policy of force has big downsides. As people get hurt, public sentiment is inflamed further. Arresting and detaining people considerably worsens the risk of virus transmission.

An alternative is to defuse tensions. Measures vary depending on the reasons people are protesting and what could placate them. The authorities should, of course, always be willing to do little things like release Mir-Shakil-ur-Rehman, or obtain court orders for payment to Jang/Geo employees by seizing his assets. But when there are much bigger factors that are driving people to take to the streets, giving them what they want is usually no easy task. During this pandemic, in particular, Pakistan will have to navigate its way through many dilemmas and quagmires. For example, we have to tread a thin line between suppressing the spread of the virus and allowing the social and economic activity of the nation to continue. It may prove impossible for Pakistan to adopt a course of action that both protects as many lives as possible from the virus and keeps everybody reasonably happy.

In that case, it will have to be up to people themselves to avoid behaving in a manner that endangers them, the people around, and the broader society. It is important to reach out to every Pakistani and make them understand the danger the pandemic poses and the need to fight it tooth and nail, and to help them understand why things are the way they are. For the poor who resorted to angry protests in places like Karachi during recent summers, awareness was something that they were deprived of as much as water. We have to make sure that it is not the same situation during our current crisis. The pandemic is a crisis for the entire population of Pakistan, so properly informing every single Pakistani about what they need to know is necessary.

One thing that Pakistanis could be made aware of is how they can get their demands across while still practicing social, or physical, distancing. Even if every demand cannot be satisfied in desired time, we should make sure every Pakistani feels like they are being heard adequately. Protests happen because people feel it is the only way to get their message across. Let us provide satisfactory alternatives to this course of action.

If we fail to do that, we must find ways for people to engage in protest without providing the virus with opportunity to spread. All that is needed is for people to stay at a distance from each other and to wear personal protection. Protestors will have an incentive to follow this protocol, because their demonstration will be occupying a wider area, (a desirable thing from protestor point of view). Protesting has traditionally focused on being dense, perhaps because it packs a tight punch. But now, the amount of space protests take place in should be the value protestors should seek. It might be just as effective. People stand out in the open, wave placards, and chant loudly, while being far apart from each other, wearing masks and face shields. In the Washington choir practice, the virus might have spread so much because the crowd was indoors. Enclosed spaces allow respiratory particles to circulate in the same area effectively. But outside, which is where protests always take place, this risk is much lower.

Getting people to either find alternatives to protesting, or educating them to protest in a safe manner are two plausible strategies to be adopted if public discontent cannot be defused. Protesting has always been the last resort for people unhappy with what is happening, but as with many things, what is traditionally done has to be given up during this pandemic. We need to find new ways of doing things. This is a time for civil society and political leaders to reflect on the whole phenomenon of protesting, to reevaluate the mechanism of protest. The upheavals of 2019 made protesting the most valued form of activism for the world. But now, in 2020, we have to discover how to fight injustice and advocate for our cause differently during this global upheaval called the COVID-19 pandemic.

Best of all, we should learn how to get along with each other and cooperate, without resorting to confrontation, in order to make it through this time of crisis.

The brief has been authored by Shahzeb Khan, director at PPLDM.

KEEP MARKETS OPEN 24/7

The following Policy Brief was released by PPLDM on 15/05/2020

Pakistan eased its Covid-19 urban lockdown from 9 May. Government announced SOPs for traders and customers amidst fines if masks were not worn and hand sanitizer not provided in market places, which are required to open in the morning and shut down at sunset.

This timing is the most fundamental flaw in regulation of market place during pandemic emergency. It will turn out to be counterproductive.

The nine hours a day timing will typically create vehicular rush hours on the roads and customer rush hours inside shops, as most people will put shopping off till the last hour, when they have ended their daily job and have catered to other important personal and family needs. Racing to meet the deadline, especially when shopping for Eid, people will congregate in markets close to closing time. Traders and consumers alike will not be able to maintain social distancing or follow hand sanitizing and other safety measures because they would be buying and selling under extreme pressure.

As the new timing creates inevitable bottle necks called rush hours, law enforcement too will be overwhelmed as their ability to enforce social distancing and wearing of masks would be drastically reduced in the face of mad rush of people all around them. They will be reduced to acting either as mere idle by standers, or will be driven to making mistakes under extreme pressure.

Every day at market places there will be hours of mad frenzy that throws caution to the wind. This potential “super spreader” behavior of people, congregated at public places each day, will be created by the very regulation that aims at mitigating the spread of Covid-19 virus.

PPLDM formally requests government of Pakistan to make it mandatory for retailers to stay open 24/7 to avoid bottle necks called rush hours. The pressure of racing against time will thus ease upon consumers and traders alike and both will be better able to follow Covid-19 safety instructions. If costumers see rush in a market place, they will themselves return to their lodgings to come back to market later when the rush is over. This will not allow swelling of congregation beyond the capacity of the market place. Consumers, plus traders, will be thus safer from virus as they have time to observe measures such as sanitizing hands prior to shopping and sales persons demanding that customers enter shops only if they are wearing masks. Sellers and law enforcement will have ample opportunity to provide customers masks at the very entrance to market place, if the latter do not possess their own. All will be better able to ensure regulations are being observed during commercial transactions at the market place.

It would help consumers, traders and government, all three, if 24/7 timing is in place for markets to function during the entire Covid-19 health emergency. This will generate gainful employment while ensuring uninterrupted services to people in safer environment, facilitate meticulous observation of SOPs and enable police to enforce, in a hassle free manner, all regulatory measures aimed at mitigating the spread of Covid-19. The in flow and out flow of virus is “prevented” through a combination of personal protection equipment, hand sanitization and social distancing.

We request government of Pakistan to enforce the pattern suggested above during this special time of pre Eid-ul Fitar shopping frenzy.

PLANET DISINFECTED?

One of the most unfortunate, and dangerous aspects of the world wide panic generated by covid-19 pandemic is the massive surface disinfection activity adopted in nearly all countries of the globe. Surfaces are being washed with sodium hypochlorite and other chemical disinfectants routinely. Buildings, streets, roads, market places, neighborhoods, towns, cities, even districts are being sanitized with chemical ingredients some of which have no approval from environmental protection agencies in respective countries. A spike in demand means labeled products are in short supply. Service providers have no choice but to avail what ever they can lay their hands on in an array of commonly available house hold disinfectants, which are allowed to remain in wet contact with surface for long enough period to kill microorganisms, pathogens and viruses. Surfaces are not wiped dry afterwards but left to air dry. Some are hosed with clean water before disinfection. This is done not once or twice, but routinely for the last quarter of a year with no end in sight. Walk through sanitizer tunnels are installed at entrances to commercial and residential buildings and market places all over the globe. Ambulances and goods carrying vehicles are sanitized. There are places where just about any vehicle is routinely sanitized.

Chemical product labeling programs hardly exist in most developing countries. Labour force that carries out disinfecting jobs is ill trained. High demand for labeled products means availability runs short. Service providers have to make compounds themselves under often inadequate instructions. In USA, for instance, EPA’s Environment Safe Product Labeling Program is voluntary and most products that are being used to disinfect North America are not reviewed because of panic buying to meet the spike in demand, and producers running low on stock. Basically what ever is available is being used to disinfect surfaces everywhere. Human habitat is incessantly given a chemical bath for a prolonged period.

At what cost?

The ecological consequence of this routine dousing of the planet with man made disinfectants is dangerous due to two scientific processes – Surface run off – and – biomagnification. This global disinfection activity not only poses a threat to marine and avian life, it has adverse impact on human and other life forms as well.

The term surface run off refers to over land flow of water after every rainfall or snow melt. Surface run off routinely replenishes Earth’s rivers, seas and oceans. Even in ordinary circumstances, civilization has made surface run off a major source of down- stream water pollution due to presence of agricultural fertilizers, pesticides, and industrial waste. To control latter’s harmful impact on earth’s water system, states have evolved certain SOPs and maintain hydrographs to keep checking the chemical content of water in a given area, referred to as ‘point source pollution.’

Agricultural surface run off is sub-surface run off, the part of water which first leashes into the soil, (natural filter) and moves laterally to the stream, river or ocean. Industrial waste is monitored and controlled through regulations that require industrial waste water to be filtered before it is discharged down stream. Regulations are in place for eroded material to be deposited in a place where it is considered safe. Because points of pollution are known and finite in all such cases, regulatory enforcement is possible. And yet – despite all this effort – agricultural and industrial waste continues to pose a threat to Earth’s ecosystem.

And now, this unprecedented and insane rush to disinfect the entire planet Earth with man-made chemicals is ‘non point source pollution,’ meaning it is generating dangerous run off from all over, all at once, on regular, relentless basis, polluting our ecosystem with harmful substances, poisoning marine life, avian life, and harming human health.

Run off is measured as the quantity of water that is discharged during a given period from a drainage basin and collects in lakes, swamps, ponds, rivers, seas and ultimately, earth’s oceans. Much of the US land, (hub of relentless urban chemical disinfection activity for last three months) for instance, drains into Gulf of Mexico through the Mississippi watershed. All over the globe, surface run off drains into different water systems of the Earth in similar manner.

Urban land is mostly paved, i.e., it consists of vast tracts of impervious surface such as roads, roofs, pavements. On such surfaces, water does not get absorbed into the soil, which is a natural filtration mechanism, but runs off down stream into creeks, lakes, and rivers headed for seas and ultimately, Earth’s oceans. As we disinfect planet earth with sodium hypochlorite and other chemical substances, urban run off gets polluted with high concentration levels of harmful chemical disinfectants. This has adverse impact on marine life.

Hypochlorite has destructive effect on gills, makes it difficult for large size marine vertebrates to breathe, to absorb oxygen. Tiny microbes, plankton or algae, absorb pollutants in the run off. Fish or shell fish consume the microbes or absorb the pollutants directly. Birds consume the fish, increasing the level of pollutants in their own bodies. Birds also quench thirst directly from the run off.

Biomagnification is the process by which the concentration of a substance increases as it passes up the food chain. Organisms high on the food chain have a higher concentration of pollutants in their body than organisms lower down the chain, such as algae. We humans occupy a high status. When we eat sea food, say for instance oysters, we ingest run off chemicals. Ingesting high concentrations of sodium hypochlorite can ultimately lower our immunity to covid-19 as hypochlorite directly impacts the lungs and the esophagus.

In a 2001 lab study on impact of sodium hypochlorite on avian life, the aviary premise was cleaned with 5% chlorine bleach. Seven birds out of thirty five died after developing respiratory disease within twelve days of exposure. Clinical abnormalities started to show after six days of exposure. The reproductive system of all birds was damaged. Think of what we are doing to avian life by giving our planet a chlorine shower every hour, every day, every week, every month for the past quarter of a year. Think of what we are doing to Earth’s marine life – and think of what we are doing to our own health and that of our children.

We are not just endangering entire species of marine and avian life, we may even be ending some through this process.

In South Asia, the monsoon is upon us. During this season, there is a sharp spike in mean discharge per unit of drainage area. Massive urban run off is generated during monsoon and replenishes our rivers and seas. Run off in South Asia’s big cities has lately regularly created urban flooding because the capacity of the drainage system is overwhelmed during monsoon. If we keep adding chemicals to our run off, the monsoon induced urban floods will have devastating impact on avian life and down stream ecosystem, not to mention human health in such an environment. We can have higher rate of respiratory illnesses among human beings (rising parallel to Covid-19), higher rate of skin and eye disease among children and adults, and birds dying all around us.

We have to stop drenching our planet in chemical disinfectants. The carrier of covid-19 is ‘human body.’ Personal Protection equipment is designed to safeguard humans from the virus. Hand sanitization is utilized to mitigate contamination by touch of hand. Where, in this equation of prevention of inflow and outflow of virus, do the hard surfaces of our cities feature?

States of the world need to stop ‘NOW,’ or it could be “too late.”

PAKISTAN FACES TWIN THREATS OF PANDEMIC AND FAMINE

The following issue brief was released by PPLDM on 26/04/2020

“We should therefore be hugely alarmed that Pakistan is in the throes of what is very likely the worst pandemic and worst food crisis of the twenty-first century both at the same time. The outbreaks of coronavirus and locusts may together overcome our modern defenses against disease and starvation and, because the rest of the world is so badly affected, Pakistan should not expect much relief coming from abroad.”

Pakistan, along with a large number of other countries, is currently battling two major outbreaks. One is the novel coronavirus causing the disease called COVID-19, currently sweeping the entire world. The other is the desert locust, which has been ravaging large areas of Africa and Asia for some time.

COVID-19 has so far infected nearly 3 million people globally and killed around 200,000, with the numbers continuing to rise. The virus was first discovered in Pakistan at the end of February. Since then it has been spreading rapidly throughout the country. Over 12,000 Pakistanis are now infected and no one can tell how it will turn out. In China, it appears to be dying down after two months of successful containment measures that can be tolerated by countries that have the resources to compensate for periods of low productivity. Some predict that Pakistan will see tens of millions of infections by June (https://www.dawn.com/news/1542651). The death toll could be in the hundreds of thousands.

Meanwhile, the locust swarms are being referred to as an “unprecedented threat to food security” by the UN’s Locust Watch (http://www.fao.org/ag/locusts/en/info/info/index.html). Swarms originating in East Africa started to rampage in countries including Pakistan in mid-2019 but really kicked off after 2020 began, prompting Pakistan to declare a state of national emergency when February began. The infestation has been steadily increasing in Pakistan, causing huge crop losses, and continues to persist without signs of dying down, while countries to the west are being devastated. Experts predict the coming of rising temperatures and summer rainfall might cause locust populations across the region to further explode 400-fold by June (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-africa-locusts/running-out-of-time-east-africa-faces-new-locust-threat-idUSKCN20L1TY). Who knows how much they will grow in South Asia when the summer monsoon comes.

So we now have two severe crises at the same time, one attacking our health and the other our nutrition. Our government has declared that a national lockdown policy is not feasible because the country is too poor to afford its supply chains shutting down, so the virus spread must be countered through other measures. The locust outbreak is wreaking massive economic damage and driving people to hunger, vastly aggravating this conundrum. In turn, the COVID-19 pandemic is hampering international efforts to fight the locust outbreaks. Together the calamities present Pakistan with an unprecedented challenge.

In fact, the danger looming ahead may be something greater than we could ever imagine. Pakistan is facing both an epidemic and a famine at the same time and, throughout history, epidemics and famines have both consistently been the greatest threats to human lives and well-being (besides intra-human war and violence).

Disasters in which people died of other causes usually have minute casualties by comparison. The 1556 Shaanxi earthquake in China, the deadliest known earthquake in history, killed around 830,000 according to historical accounts. The deadliest tsunami, Boxing Day 2004, killed nearly a quarter of a million in the Indian Ocean. Cyclone Bhola, which killed anywhere from a quarter of a million to half a million in East Pakistan in 1970, is the deadliest tropical storm on record. In the same region, a tornado that killed 1,300 people in 1989 is the deadliest known tornado. The deadliest flooding, the 1931 Yangtze floods in China, is believed to have killed more than 150,000 people directly. The deadliest known volcanic eruption, 1815 eruption of Tambora, directly killed perhaps more than 10,000.

All of this is nothing compared to the enormous death tolls of history’s worst epidemics and famines, not to mention the suffering and havoc inflicted alongside. As a side effect of the above calamities, in fact, the 1815 Tambora eruption resulted in epidemics and famines that killed 60,000 people in the local region and more than 90,000 people worldwide, the so-called Year Without a Summer, while as many as four million Chinese may have died from the disease and starvation that stemmed from the 1931 Yangtze floods.

The deadliest pandemic in history is either the 1918 Spanish Flu, which may have killed as many as 50 million people, maybe even 100 million people, worldwide, or the 14th century Black Death, which killed probably as many as 200 million people across Eurasia, including perhaps as much as 60% of Europe’s population. Both pandemics were similar to COVID-19 in that they involved spread of pathogens new to the world. The worst epidemics in history were those of diseases brought to the Americas by European visitors after 1492, which wiped out 90% of American Indians, turning the continents into pristine wildernesses. The sixth century Plague of Justinian may have killed 25 million in the Eastern Mediterranean. 5 million Romans may have been killed by the Antonine Plague of 165 to 180 AD. In the late 1950s, Asian flu killed 1 to 2 million worldwide.

The deadliest famine in history is the Great Chinese Famine of 1959-1961. Caused in part by outbreaks of insects like locusts as well as governmental mismanagement, both concerns for Pakistan right now. Upper estimates of the death toll are 36 or 45 million. As many as 25 million people may have died from the 1907 Great Qing famine in China. Three famines in India in the late 1700s killed at least ten million people. That includes the Great Bengal Famine of 1770 which may have killed a third of Bengal’s population. From 1315 to 1322, more than 7 million were killed in widespread famine across Europe. 5 million Russians starved to death during the famine caused by the Russian Civil War in 1921-22.

With this kind of record, it is clear that epidemics and famine are immensely deadly forces, even if they have been somewhat calmer in modern times. We should therefore be hugely alarmed that Pakistan is in the throes of what is very likely the worst pandemic and worst food crisis of the twenty-first century both at the same time. The outbreaks of coronavirus and locusts may together overcome our modern defenses against disease and starvation and, because the rest of the world is so badly affected, Pakistan should not expect much relief coming from abroad. Both the virus and the locust multiply extremely rapidly and have the potential to infect all people and consume all crops respectively.

All indications, therefore, are that Pakistan is in for what may be the biggest calamity in its history. We need to wake up to the unprecedented danger we are in and we need to do something. Putting Pakistan on a war footing immediately, along with the rest of the world, is perhaps our only choice. Importantly, we have to apply our minds to the task, because discovering innovative solutions that could save us will be an epic endeavor. The severity of the crisis at this stage may be nothing compared to what is coming. We need to avail this time for preparation, which will significantly improve our chances. Every effort will be worth it, for the very survival of our nation is at stake.

THIS ISSUE BRIEF HAS BEEN PREPARED BY SHAHZEB KHAN, DIRECTOR PPLDM.
Pakistan’s People Led Disaster Management
PO Box 552
Islamabad PC 44000

EASING THE BURDEN ON HEALTHCARE DURING COVID-19 PANDEMIC

COVID-19 is not a very dangerous disease as far as diseases go. Many who contract the virus don’t seem to be affected at all. Of those with symptoms, 80 percent end up modestly ill. Among those who do come down with severe illness, only five percent end up in critical condition. We are quite good at treating the disease. If people get adequate medical care, chance of survival is high.

Yet, this virus is plunging the world into chaos for two reasons. First, from the start of the pandemic, nobody in the world had natural immunity to it. Second, the world has no medication that can cure and no vaccination that can prevent the disease. The virus suddenly emerged a few months ago and is spreading rapidly through the world, infecting people in huge numbers and overwhelming health care systems of nation states.

Where the pandemic is in full swing, hospitals are being filled to the brim with patients. In some areas, hospitals lack enough room to take in the surge of patients and new facilities have to be built hastily.
The inability of healthcare systems to cope with the scale of the pandemic is a factor behind the severity of the COVID-19 crisis. When the pandemic gets into full swing in the developing world, which it is likely to do, a massive globe-spanning catastrophe will likely ensue.

Relieving medical systems from the burden is necessary. As preventing people from ever contracting the virus is not likely, the goal most of us hope to achieve is preventing too many people from being infected with the virus at the same time, known as flattening the curve (the curve on the diagram showing the prevalence of infections over time). Most people might still end up getting infected by the time the pandemic is over, but at least patients aren’t streaming into hospitals too fast.

To achieve flattening of the curve, highly restrictive measures are being imposed upon society. Mass gatherings are done away with, people are made to stay home, and non-essential economic activity is halted, but the economic slowdown adversely impacts the capacity of the medical sector itself. Even in the most advanced countries, such measures have often not eased the severity of the medical crisis. Healthcare systems are still feeling tremendous strain in the midst of the pandemic. Italy, for example, turned itself into a ghost country yet ventilators were still rationed for a period of time. As the virus continues its expansion across the world, we will need to find ways to solve this issue.

The overburdening of healthcare is terrible not only for people suffering from COVID-19 but people suffering from other illnesses that requires urgent treatment. People get injured, get cancer, suffer heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, respiratory distress, etc., and as coronavirus spreads, none of this stops.
This means that this pandemic further endangers people who need medical treatment for ailments besides COVID-19. Conversely, people who have coronavirus find it harder to get treatment because hospitals are busy treating other conditions. It’s happened in Italy. It’s happening in India. Reportedly, it has started happening in Japan. Patients suffering from another disease also run the risk of being infected with COVID-19 if they go to hospitals. If they contract COVID-19 in addition to the conditions they already have, the consequences can be severe. Lockdown measures also make it difficult for them to access treatment.

The situation is the worst for people needing treatment for respiratory ailments, because they need the same equipment and personnel used for treating COVID-19. Ventilators are essential not just for COVID-19 but for a lot of conditions. Most people with severe medical conditions have therefore become indirect victims of the pandemic. It is a grave issue.

We need to find a solution to the conundrum of healthcare systems buckling under COVID-19.

A solution can be found in the alteration the global education system is currently undergoing while in the throes of COVID-19 pandemic. The globe is turning to online education as temporary response to Covid-19 till vaccine is found. All over the world, including Pakistan, buildings that were being used for imparting education to people are shutting down as students are made to stay home and turn to online lessons.

PPLDM has already written about how online education provides cure to many of the fundamental faults in Pakistan’s education system while simultaneously freeing capital for investment in other sectors to accelerate our economic progress. Bill Gates has extrapolated that online education is the future of education because this pandemic will make families afraid to send their children to school and online education will evolve to be of too much convenience to be set aside.

Pakistan can convert its nation-wide school buildings into hospitals where Covid-19 patients are treated. Each room can isolate and serve a single patient, mitigating intra-hospital spread. We can convert some of the local school buildings into testing facilities. Some should be utilized for stockpiling of PPEs. Imran Khan wants to reopen the construction sector to boost economy. Let us start with converting our schools in our urban metropolis, and our rural areas, into general hospitals, hospitals that treat only Covid-19 patients, and medical test facilities including separate Covid-19 test facilities and for stockpiling of Personal Protection Equipment. Part of the buildings in far flung rural areas can be converted into safe housing for doctors with security that includes CCTV cameras. We are currently using our police to strong arm people in urban areas for lock-down enforcement. Police should be instead appointed to ensure security of school buildings thus converted into medical facilities, medical professional’s residences, testing facilities, labs, hospitals and stockpiling facilities. Military can collaborate in this endeavor.

Let us equip our school buildings with state-of-the-art medical machinery. Let us convert them into Covid-19 test facilities for now, and other essential medical facilities for population’s long term benefit. Let us use some of the school buildings as labs and some as PPE manufacturing factories. Let us spend the money international donors are providing Pakistan to fight Covid-19 pandemic in this manner. We will ease the burden on our health care system. We will also provide health care facilities to far-flung areas where Covid-19 is breaking out and where health care is either non-existent or in short supply.

Needless to mention, we have to make 4G and 5G technologies available to our areas where the same is hitherto nonexistent. We have to do this on war footing because these technologies are indispensable for online education/ home schooling to keep students safe from the pandemic without halting our human resource development because we are driven to halting our educational system.

The lawmakers will have to make emergency laws to mandate doctors to work in designated far flung areas during health emergency. Many of those who have recently graduated from medical hospitals in Pakistan, but have opted out of working in the health care sector, should be drafted to work under enforced medical emergency and penalized for not doing so without good reason. In fact, many of our medical graduates do not go on to working in health care sector for no good reason at all. The state spends a huge amount on training of these individuals, but because the state is lax and has no laws for ensuring this crucial sector is staffed with adequate personnel, dropping out is easy and the rate is high. One NGO has estimated the dropout rate among female medical graduates and young workers to be 80%. This high rate is the rate of drop out only among medical doctors and does not include nurses. This practice must be discouraged and the Covid-19 emergency is an apt time to make laws to discourage this practice, indeed, a crime against society because a poor state’s precious capital is wasted by such irresponsible conduct. Those who don’t want to work as medical professionals should not avail the precious seats in Pakistan’s medical colleges and those who have availed them should be committed by law to give a specific period of their post-graduation life to serving in medical profession inside Pakistan. They can go out for further training, but work in Pakistan they must.

The contact tracing is an essential part of containing the spread of Covid-19. It helps collect essential data for researching the pandemic. For instance those who were in contact with a Covid-19 positive person but did not contract the virus are needed for researching if there are natural immunities to the virus.

Pakistan should utilize its students, including medical students, to carry out contact tracing. It can use teachers to supervise how students are carrying out their contact tracing responsibility. Contact tracing can be done from home through emails, cell phone text messaging and mail systems. Those who are entrusted with the job of tracing will have to work in close liaison with the police. Local police stations can make field visits to the residences or work places to help collect data on those who were exposed to the virus. A contact tracing hub should be established where data is collected and shared within Pakistan and with the international community. Pakistan’s software engineers should be mobilized on war footing to establish the hub and its operational mechanism should include local and provincial government, the education sector, the medical sector and the law enforcement, among other necessary personnel.

Infection prevention and control policy at local levels will be enhanced through buildings which have been converted from schools into health care and testing facilities. We should aspire to test as many as we can. We can instruct people in safety measures at testing facilities. We can enter into an arrangement with China and other friendly neighbors whereby we collect samples in Pakistan but send them for testing to labs in friendly neighboring countries that have capacity to do so. China has offered to help. Establishing testing labs in Pakistan and helping with test results is where we should ask China to help. We can also seek help from any friendly neighbors where domestic testing labs are not overburdened.

Testing our population, providing adequate medical treatment to our population and equipping our population with protection against the virus is the most effective way to overcome this calamity.

If our state follows the guidelines provided in this policy brief by converting our education system into online system and converting our existing school buildings in urban and rural areas into healthcare facilities, we would have a long term solution to the most fundamental problems in two critical sectors of our domestic economy; our health care system and our education system.

This PPLDM policy brief has been authored by Zeenia Sadiq Satti & Shahzeb Khan.

Questions about the Coronavirus Pandemic

COVID-19 is a disease completely new to the world. The virus that causes it, SARS-COV-2, evolved recently and was first detected only a few months ago. The pandemic it is causing so far appears to be only beginning. There is a lot we need to find out concerning the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are therefore many questions that we have to ask that urgently need to be answered. Some of these questions the experts may already know the answer to, so they just have to explain it to the general public. But many questions nobody knows the answer to yet. There remains a lot for us to discover about the virus, the disease it causes, its spread around the world, and what we can do about it. There also seems to be a great deal of confusion in the information being given out. Many questions, of course, are widely asked and researchers are trying their hardest to find answers to. But we should also keep thinking of new questions to ask. Asking questions is the most important thing we can do. It helps to guide the research.

So, to aid in the world’s struggle against COVID-19, presented here is a list of questions about the new coronavirus, most of which are rarely asked and none of which are clearly answered. You can present them to local experts or you can disseminate them broadly.

The first questions we need to ask are about the viral disease itself, of course.

•(1) Is it possible for some people to be exposed to the virus but not get infected? Is there immunity that we don’t know of?

•(2) How clearly is the distinction made between illness, which is people being affected by the virus, and infectiousness, which is people being able to transmit the virus to others? For example, when they say that sick people have recovered from COVID-19, do they mean those people are also safely non-contagious?

•(3) When the virus is detected, whether inside the human body or not, how do we distinguish between finding live viruses and the remains of viruses that once were?

•(4) Can it be indicated how people who have the virus got infected?

•(5) There are indications that some people have died of COVID-19 without them being known to have the virus. If an infected person dies and is buried and significant time passes, is it possible to examine their remains to detect if they had the virus?

•(6) Exactly where in the human body is the virus to be found and how many types of bodily fluids can harbor the virus?

•(7) There are some hints about the virus being able to infiltrate the circulatory system. Some infected people display cardiovascular symptoms and sources say some of these cases are from the virus infecting the heart. Also, the virus attacks cells with the ACE2 receptor, which are found in the lungs but also in the blood vessels. This raises the serious question: can the virus be found in blood?

•(8) Can you get the virus through a cut on your skin?

•(9) Could the virus possibly then be vector-borne, like by mosquitoes or ticks?

•(10) They say the virus cannot be contracted by eating food. Presumably, this is because, while the mouth leads to a respiratory tract, it closes when eating. But after food passes by, doesn’t it leave behind virus particles sticking to the walls of the throat and esophagus which can then go into the respiratory tract?

•(11) Also, aren’t gastrointestinal symptoms of COVID-19 a sign that the virus can infiltrate the digestive system?

•(12) Does the likelihood of contracting the virus increase if there are a lot of dust particles in the air and they carry the virus?

•(13) They say that sneezing is not a common symptom of COVID-19, but can people infected with COVID-19 also have another condition at the same time that makes them sneeze, like another infection or an allergy attack, and can this sneezing transmit the virus?

•(14) Does being exposed to any other virus in the past give people a level of immunity to SARS-CoV-2, like how contracting cowpox used to protect people from smallpox? The virus that caused SARS back in 2003 is similar to the virus causing the current pandemic. Are people who were infected with SARS back then less affected by COVID-19 now?

•(15) Can people be immunized against COVID-19 by being exposed to such a low infectious load of the virus that it does not progress to any significant illness but results in antibodies being created?

•(16) We hear that people with underlying health conditions are especially vulnerable to contracting the virus. What happens when people are infected with COVID-19 and with other infectious diseases (of the kind caused by viruses, bacteria, etc.) at the same time? Do other diseases have the same effect they normally do?

•(17) Does COVID-19 leave healthy people with new morbidities, which is to say that they have lingering health damage they did not have before?

•(18) How does childhood stunting affect a person’s vulnerability to COVID-19?

•(19) The old and those in poor health are who usually succumb to Covid-19. Is there any indication that most of the people who died from COVID-19 were already going to die shortly of old age or health complications?

•(20) We understand why the virus goes hard on the old, but not why it spares the very young. The immune systems of young children are yet to fully develop, rendering them vulnerable to many diseases. Why isn’t COVID-19 one of them?

•(21) Are there any conditions which allow the virus to survive for a long period of time outside the human body?

•(22) Can the virus be transmitted through water, rendering COVID-19 a waterborne disease?

•(23) What is the longest length of time a person has been infected or ill with COVID-19?

In a similar vein are the questions about the pandemic, the way the infection is spreading through the world and its impact.

•(24) What is it exactly that makes the pandemic such a severe crisis for people? Is it the mortality from the pandemic that people are mostly concerned about or is it also the debilitating or damaging effects of so many people falling ill (similar to how the recent Australian bushfires and the 2010 Pakistan floods are considered huge disasters despite their very low death tolls)?

•(25) If infections from the virus are undetected, can we find evidence of them by noticing a rise in the general rate of illness?

•(26) How is the COVID-19 pandemic, and our response to it, impacting the treatment of other diseases?

•(27) Are the measures being taken against the pandemic, including lockdowns and keeping people home, resulting in smaller numbers of people falling victim to other illnesses and injuries like car accidents, workplace accidents, violence, and respiratory ailments from pollution, thus compensating for the burden the pandemic is placing on healthcare systems?

•(28) Does the coinciding of the COVID-19 pandemic with flu season and allergy season in many parts of the world worsen the spread of the virus by resulting in many virus-infected people also having flu or allergic reactions and therefore sneezing/coughing the virus out?

•(29) If the virus can be found in human feces, does it have potential to become another one of those diseases spread through the fecal-oral route i.e coming out through feces, contaminating water, therefore food that is ingested?

•(30) What are the implications of the two disasters co-coinciding – the desert locust outbreaks in Africa and Asia and the COVID-19 pandemic?

Then, of course, we need to know all about the actions being taken against the spread of the virus. The ways we are responding to it have to be thoroughly scrutinized and suggestions need to be given as to what can be done.

•(31) Why is it going to take a very long time to develop a vaccine for the virus? Simply exposing the virus to soap causes it to burst open, rendering it inactive but leaving its individual components, like the RNA and spike proteins, intact. These are all that are needed to provoke the needed immune response in the body. Why not collect enough of the virus particles, split them open, and inject the remains into people?

•(32) In the bat species that harbors the ancestral virus, do the bats have antibodies or anything that could be used to help humans?

•(33) They say that flattening the curve could result in the same number of people being infected in the end anyway. The goal is just to make sure too many are not infected at the same time. But in China, the epidemic (at least its first wave) seems to have petered out after two months. How it is that they have so far shortened the curve in addition to flattening it and could this work for other places?

•(34) We have two ways to respond to the pandemic. One is to slow the spread of the virus, flattening the curve, and the other is to do nothing. It is generally believed that the former option will result in the outbreak lasting a longer time while the latter option will result in the outbreak quickly running its course, as was demonstrated by St. Louis and Philadelphia during the 1918 Spanish Flu. But there seem to be indications that blocking the spread results in the epidemic quickly coming to an end, including the fact that it seemingly happened in China, and that letting the virus spread unabated may result in the epidemic lasting a very long time. So which is it? Will flattening the curve prolong or shorten the duration of the outbreak?

•(35) Since COVID-19 patients are being concentrated in hospitals, do those hospitals become highly hazardous places where anybody present is at risk of contracting the virus, including patients hospitalized for other conditions? For that reason, shouldn’t separate facilities and clinics be set aside for COVID-19 patients?

•(36) The severity of the pandemic means that people with limited qualifications are being called upon to help treat the virus, including medical students being allowed to graduate early. But providing the wrong care can be much worse than providing less care. How do we safeguard against these sorts of dangers?

•(37) In hard-hit places, medical practitioners of every specialty are being recruited for the fight against COVID-19. But how qualified are they for the job and how does each medical field provide the ability to deal with COVID-19?

•(38) Given the enormity of the disaster, is there any possibility of resorting to using human experimentation to make inroads into treating the disease?

•(39) We are told that making the immune system healthier can improve our chances of fighting off COVID-19, can immunity boosting for that purpose be done quickly enough through injections of nutrients to keep people safe in this current pandemic?

•(40) Can we coat surfaces everywhere with copper if it is an effective anti-microbial agent against the virus?

•(41) Can dogs or other animals sniff out coronavirus infections?

•(42) Why can’t static electricity be used to filter out tiny particles, like the virus we are all concerned about? Electrostatic forces act on small objects but not on air. So if a facemask has a net static charge, which can easily be created, couldn’t it either make virus particles stick to the fiber or keep virus particles away from the mask while allowing air to flow through?

Lastly, we need to broaden our scope and delve into the more general subject matter that surrounds this current pandemic.

•(43) Why is it that viral infections are such a widespread phenomenon anyway? Viruses do not force their way into cells. What goes on is basically the cell sensing virus proteins, letting the virus in, coming into contact with the virus genome, and deciding to follow its instructions. It appears that cells allow themselves to be victimized by viruses. If nature did not do it, can humans simply design cells to keep viruses out?

•(44) The perfect recipe for a pathogen with high potential to go pandemic includes a long incubation period, high virulence, and hosts with no immunity. But if a pathogen has a very long incubation period, during which time it is present in the human body while causing no harm, doesn’t that give time for the immune system to develop antibodies against it, therefore compromising the pathogen’s ability to progress to causing serious illness? (Might this explain SARS-CoV-2’s low virulence?)

These questions will hopefully serve as useful guidance for both researchers and ordinary folks trying to understand Covid-19. There will be many more we will be asking as we proceed on the voyage of discovery alongside this pandemic.