by Chander Malhotra and Ashwani Sharma
Charles de Gaulle, the flagship of the French Navy is at the centre of a coronavirus emergency. The ship which was involved in a training exercise with NATO allies, was summoned back and reached its home base at the Mediterranean port of Toulon on April 12. Till date 1,081 of the 2,300 individuals aboard the Charles de Gaulle and its escort vessels have tested positive with about 300 results still to be finalised. Of those who have tested positive 20 plus are in hospital with one in intensive care. Even after all balance results come in, it would be safe to assume that a total number of infections would come to approximately 1200, which is slightly more than fifty percent. Almost all the infected sailors are from the Aircraft Carrier with 1746 crew members, which puts the infection rate at 60%.
The Charles de Gaulle left Toulon for the eastern Mediterranean in late January before making its way to the Atlantic and the North Sea to participate in multinational naval drills. On 13 March the ship made a logistics stop at Brest on the Atlantic Coast for a couple of days. Restrictions for the crew were not strict and sailors were allowed to go ashore, meet family and visit restaurants and shops. That was right before France went into full lockdown, as the number of cases tied to the virus was still low. As the Carrier Group sailed into cold waters,doctors in the infirmary were not surprised to see 15 to 20 sailors with symptoms like coughing every day. What alerted the commander was that starting on April 5, he witnessed an exponential increase in the number of sailors showing characteristic signs of Covid-19. Cutting short the mission the ship was ordered back and reached Toulon on 12 April.
Earlier USS Theodore Roosevelt was in the eye of the storm over the outbreak of Coronavirus amongst its crew. Politicisation of the issue and intense media scrutiny diverted attention from the medical aspects. In this case, of the almost 5000 crew on board around 700 got infected with one fatal casualty.
As finger pointing and investigations go on in both the cases, as military observers, do we see a glimmer of hope in these incidents and figures, as young fit men fought the virus rather well?
In the case of Charles de Gaulle where the spread and reach is more specifically traceable, the sailors had been together since the middle of March, working in compact spaces where social distancing is just not feasible. Masks were not available till end of March when the ship reached Denmark. Yet more than 40% resisted the virus and a very small percentage has required hospitalisation, with just one in the ICU. That the crew are young individuals with high resistance levels is a given, but there are other factors that should encourage us to be positive at a time when the scourge of Covid 19 has engulfed the entire world in dark clouds.
To begin with it is a smart but not a strong virus. A large percentage of young population will remain unaffected and asymptomatic. Most people infected with the Covid 19 will only experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and impaired immunity are more likely to develop serious illness.
As per the Indian Council of Medical Research close to 80 percent patients may come down with a light cold and fever and recover on their own without getting to know that they have been infected by Covid 19. Only five percent will require hospitalisation.
Imposing a hard lockdown on large populations is a good first step while nation states ramp up their health care facilities and figure out an overall response. But far more important is the exit strategy, once the infection curve has been flattened. There is a corresponding economic downslide and the balance is tenuous at best. Givenour high-density communities we need to have a careful trade-off between safety measures and the basic social and economic needs of the populace.
It is imperative that we formulate our Covid-19 strategy based on the facts about the virus, some of which have been enumerated above. These facts should be used as beacons of positivity so that most of us are able to move on in our lives even as we battle the pandemic. The elderly and the frail must remain safe while the younger population gets back to turning the wheels of the economy.
We cannot let all economic activity come to a halt for longer than what is necessary. Let the virus not overwhelm us. As a new world order is predicted post Corona, let the young India emerge at the very top.
“Jaan bhi Jahaan bhi”
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