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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)

Duration of the Current Corona Infection and Emergency Preparedness Policy Pertaining to Food and Agriculture

In our previous contribution to the present discussion, we assumed that all of us were adequately and scientifically informed about the possible duration of the present pandemic. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case. Its possible duration is critically important to an effective policy formulation and implementation. This supplementary note addresses this aspect of the issue we have covered in our previous contribution.

It is with much regret that we have to report that the ‘media’ in the ‘most advanced’ countries have made claims on the duration of the present Corona infection based purely on the assertions of ‘newspaper and television pundits’. These individuals as a group lack any professional training in virology; general physicians and specialists in other medical fields are not professionally competent to make sweeping statements on the possible duration of the present crisis. Needless to say that the comments from those engaged in other disciplines are irrelevant to our discussion.

We have now identified whose views we have to take into account and whose claims we may dismiss with profit. Let us now consider the possible duration of the present health emergency with reference to fundamental principals governing the behaviour of pathogens in general, and Corona virus in particular.

Strategy of every pathogen is governed by two principals:

  • The actions of the pathogen should enable it to disseminate itself as widely as possible in order to improve its chances of survival.
  • Its future survival also requires a significant increase in the pathogen population.
  • However, if it were to multiply and spread without hinder, it runs the danger of exterminating its potential hosts and would thereby face extinction itself.
  • Moreover, a high mortality rate among its hosts, man in the case of Corona virus, will automatically reduce its chances of wider dissemination.
  • Thus, it is not in the best interest of the virus to retain its virulence as it passes from man to man.
  • Nature has enable the pathogen/virus to evolve a safety measure against it exterminating a host, viz., as it passes from person to person, it looses some of virulence by the process known as attenuation. That is the infection it causes becomes less and less serious. Anyone familiar with the vaccines for viral diseases like rabies and polio would know that this is how those vaccines were developed using animals to attenuate the viruses involved.


These principals apply with undiminished force to Corona infection. Therefore, it is virologically unlikely that the present health problem would last for years. We have heard this claim from local TV pundits who have no background in infectious disease. Such spurious claims are not only irresponsible, but contribute also to the exacerbation of the current situation. Freedom of speech exercised by those free of relevant knowledge is to be deprecated.

Consider now the situation in Sweden. Counter-measures against Corona infection there were determined by an epidemiologist. These are statistician of diseases with no particular training in infectious diseases. Unfortunately, an anti-Corona strategy based on statistics can lead to disastrous results for some vulnerable groups unless a holistic approach is adopted. Indeed, this has taken place as the widely available figures show with respect to other Nordic countries.

In Sweden, the following errors of judgement have been made:

  • Even though this number is limited, how many transfers from person to person it requires for Corona virus to attenuate is unknown. It has been assumed that if people were exposed to it ad libitum, this will happen quickly. This is an example of mechanical thinking based on statistics, and it is incorrect.
  • It ignores the simple fact when risk of exposure is high; a high viral load can remain in the ambient long enough to infect more people among whom a greater number may be vulnerable.
  • It ignores that a number of passages of the virus from person to person sufficient for it to be attenuated, can be easily achieved while the number of infected people remains small. Here, size of the population infected is irrelevant, what is relevant is the number of virus passages from person to person.

We are afraid that we have allowed us to be carried away, a common fault among those who begin to talk about their subject. Our intention is to reassure the readers that combined with the common precautions like good personal hygiene, keeping a fair distance from others, self-quarantine, avoiding crowds, etc., will soon enable us to defeat the threat posed by Corona virus. We think it is reasonable to be optimistic even though one can never know whether the really useful lessons we could have learnt from it will be learned.

Best wishes!

Lal Manavado.