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Op-Ed: COVID up in UK, Russia, Indonesia almost simultaneously? Why? How?

Unless we want COVID v.10.0 wandering in a few years from now, we need to know exactly how it works.

A man receives the Sinovac vaccine against Covid-19 during a vaccination drive in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. — Photo: © AFP
A man receives the Sinovac vaccine against Covid-19 during a vaccination drive in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. — Photo: © AFP

This is a weird situation. Looking at figures from Johns Hopkins, three non-adjacent countries have recorded spikes in infection rates at almost exactly the same time. Does this damn virus have other ways of spreading? Why aren’t other countries experiencing the same spikes?

If there’s a subject about which absolutely no more bad news is wanted, it’s the pandemic. The worst of this situation is that the UK, in particular, had been doing very well after the vaccination campaign.

There’s no clear indication of exactly why this is the case.  The problem is that the steepening upward curve in the UK mirrors the rises in Russia and Indonesia. These countries aren’t exactly next door to each other. Why?

Let’s leave out the inevitable Q-like theories and politically contaminated nonsense, eh? There is something to be learned here.

There has to be some meaning in the profiles of these three cases:

  • The UK’s highly successful vaccination program is obviously a mitigating factor.  
  • Russia has its own vaccination program, which had reduced and stabilized the infection rate prior to the upsurge.
  • Indonesia had an up-and-down infection rate, but it is also now steeply climbing.  

All three countries started experiencing rises in roughly the first weeks in June.  Allowing for numbers and statistical reporting issues, the increases look pretty similar.

These countries are chalk and cheese demographically, environmentally, economically, and socially. They have nothing much in common with each other except being on the same planet. Their first and second waves weren’t all that similar, either.

© AFP

So why this sudden mutual statistical choreography? The numbers and environments are very different, but these three statistical profiles look like line dancing.

Is it the Delta variant? It could be. A new variant is bound to have some impact.  If so, however, we have a very punctual new virus which shows up in three separate locations and totally different environments at the same time. It also doesn’t explain why other countries have quite different profiles for that time frame.

Seasonal factors? A reasonable assumption, but COVID started its first wave in winter in China and the spread was very quick.

Super-spreaders? It’s quite correct to say that just a few people travelling can be super-spreaders, but not on this scale, and surely not almost simultaneously while literally missing the rest of the world. We’re talking very large numbers of people. Super-spreaders can only spread so far and so fast.

In the same time frame, India recorded a single large spike, probably due to reporting catch-up. Brazil got a bit of an upward nudge but the trends in both countries remained firmly downward.

Nothing at all happened in France, Germany, Italy or Poland. Spain had a bit of a hiccup spike, but has remained solidly in the lower bandwidth.

Effective vaccination campaigns obviously have a role in decreasing numbers. Each country’s programs are a bit different, but generally the  downward trend is stable. The only exceptions seem to be stubborn, almost immovable rates of infection like Brazil and India.

Pandemic dynamics?

If this never-adequately-loathed pandemic is to be stopped, anomalies in infection rates need to be understood. It’s not like these countries wanted a spike; they all got one at pretty much the same time. How?

Why did just about every other country on Earth miss out on this viral “special offer”? Again, how?

It’d be nice if these questions could be rhetorical. They can’t. Anything from a lapse in some blurry form of biosecurity to infected people smuggling needs to be investigated.

Unless we want COVID v.10.0 wandering in a few years from now, we need to know exactly how it works. Let’s hope it’s anything but a previously unrecognized or a new source of infection. If people have to keep going back to the epidemiological drawing board, this will be a very long, very expensive,  historical plague.

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Written By

Editor-at-Large based in Sydney, Australia.

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