Could Kraken's Goodbye Kiss signal the end of Covid-19?
Updated: Jan 11
Executive Summary: It is suggested that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a varying impact in different countries, with Asia Pacific countries generally outperforming Western countries in terms of deaths and cases. While lockdowns have had a significant impact on reducing mortality rates, particularly before the availability of an effective vaccine, the daily infection rate in Western countries has declined dramatically since the vaccine's release. The virus is believed to have evolved into a milder form with better spreading ability, but policymakers should review containment policies and prepare for normalizing life while anticipating the potential reemergence of the virus in the future.
Source (Tentacle): Designed by Freepix
The world has struggled with the pandemic caused by Covid-19 for over three years. However, some countries seem reluctant to move on from the novel coronavirus.
Dr. Ryan Gregory has named the new strains of Omicron, XBB.1.5, as Kraken, in an effort to "share information about SARS-CoV-2 variant evolution in an accessible way," rather than using the difficult-to-understand Phylogenetic Assignment of Named Global Outbreak Lineages (PANGOLIN).
It was a good intention to remind society of the virus's continued activity, regardless of its form, rather than confusing the public with Pangolin and losing focus on the new strains. The "Kraken" still exists and has been spreading rapidly.
However, the world has prepared to move on, or at least to review the effectiveness of past Covid-19 containment policies and to normalize people's lives as much as possible.
We need to understand that viruses won't go anywhere; they will emerge from thin air and then evaporate, whether in a human body or in a related animal body, waiting for another round to re-emerge. According to research conducted by researchers from the Institute of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at the National Research Council in Naples, Italy, we have faced new emerging diseases almost every year since 2000, with four of them - SARS, swine flu, MERS, and Covid-19 - being categorized as pandemics.
This differs from Yuval Noah Harari's assertion in Homo Deus that humans have won the battle with viruses, which is not the case. New diseases and viruses will emerge and roar every 3-5 years, depending on how easily they spread or how severe they are. Policymakers need to review Covid-19 containment policies and prepare for readjusting to normal life while waiting for the virus to reappear in the future.
To shorten the policy evaluation process, we have relied on a meta-analysis of the public health response to Covid-19. A meta-analysis is a statistical analysis that combines the results of multiple studies to provide a more accurate estimate of the effect of an intervention or exposure on a particular outcome. Meta-analyses are commonly used in medical research to evaluate the effectiveness of a treatment or to identify risk factors for a disease. They can also be used in education, psychology, and social science research to synthesize the findings of multiple studies and draw conclusions about the overall state of research on a topic.
Source: Our World in Data
Although research has shown that lockdowns have had little to no effect on COVID-19 mortality, data comparison between Sweden, the UK, the US, Thailand, China, and South Korea reveals that Asia Pacific countries have outperformed Western countries, with Sweden performing averagely but still significantly worse than the global average in terms of deaths-per-million, deaths, or cases. China, given its large population and vast territory, has performed particularly well.
The above data cannot deny the significant impact of lockdowns on reducing the mortality rate from Covid-19, especially before the availability of an efficient vaccine. However, after the availability of the vaccine, the daily infection rate in Western countries has dramatically declined, reflecting the vaccine's efficiency.
It is likely that the novel coronavirus has evolved into a milder form, but with better spreading ability to evade herd immunity, whether it occurs through natural infections or vaccines. China's decision to shift its policy from zero covid policy to a more relaxed approach to handling Covid-19, although under significant social pressure last month, should be praised and timely.
The higher the graph, the more the people staying at home. Source: Kaggle
In Thailand, prior to the availability of the vaccine, we employed cyclical lockdowns in order to strike a balance between health security and economic security.
According to data from Google Covid-19 Community Mobility Reports, although the government ordered lockdowns twice in 2020 and 2021 under the Public Administration in Emergency Situation, B.E. 2548 (2005), public response to both lockdowns was different. This suggests that it depends on the public's attitude and trust in the government to voluntarily stay at home rather than going outside to work. The 2021 lockdown was less successful in terms of expecting people to stay at home, according to the data, which means that either people were less scared of the virus or the pandemic lasted longer than their household savings could absorb. In this case, the government needed to provide subsidies to help people survive during the hard times.
In terms of economic performance, every country's economy has been damaged due to reduced economic activity either because of lockdown policies or limited global economic activity and disrupted supply chains. Thailand's economic performance was the second worst, after the UK, while Sweden's performance was on par with the global average. As a developing economy, Thailand's performance should not be worse than that of a developed economy like Sweden, reflecting long-term economic structural problems that need to be addressed. China was the only country among those selected that had a positive performance.
As mentioned, the virus won't go anywhere, viruses and humans will wage an eternal war, with no one defeating the other. Policymakers should review overall policies and lay out a playbook for what should be done in the event of the emergence of a new disease.
It should not be doubted that lockdown or social distancing policies should be applied during the early phase of the next pandemic in order to limit disease transmission. There should be remedial policies to ease people's struggling lives during this early phase, whether through subsidies or promoting a more digital economy and automation to promote contactless interactions as much as possible. While vaccine research, whether using inactivated viruses, viral vectors, or mRNA, should be expedited in times of crisis, the vaccine trial process, although given top priority, should be as rigorous as possible before endorsement by the FDA.
Once a vaccine has been administered to around 70-80% of the population, generating herd immunity, it should be considered to ease strict policies, lift lockdowns, normalize economic activity, open borders, and revive the global economy as much as possible. Thailand's decision to end its COVID-19 Emergency Decree on September 30, 2022, and shift to a more normalized approach of welcoming tourists, should serve as a prime example of this. China's decision to shift from a stringent zero-covid policy to a more relaxed approach should be welcomed globally. It should be reviewed why lockdown policies have performed better in Eastern countries than in Western countries, regardless of economic development. Perhaps the more hierarchical society and culture that causes the public to prioritize public security over individual value is the case and should be studied further to determine how to achieve optimal governance between the East and the West.
Government trust is another factor, considering the polarization in the US that led to a messy response to Covid-19 in the first phase, although its innovative culture successfully produced an efficient vaccine in the later period of the pandemic. Skepticism over vaccines, or "anti-vaxxers," sometimes goes beyond common sense to rely on evidence and rigorous research. This should be a concern as well. However, every vaccine may produce some unexpected side effects, particularly for the elderly and children, and this should also be taken into account.
This pandemic has been fortunate in that, in times of crisis, there is minimal evidence that Covid-19 was produced as a biological weapon. However, it must be taken into account that, with contemporary technology, gene-edited pathogens are possible using ZFN, TALEN, and CRISPR.
ZFN (zinc finger nucleases), TALEN (transcription activator-like effector nucleases), and CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) are all types of genetic engineering technologies that can be used to edit the genome of an organism. ZFNs are enzymes that consist of a DNA-binding domain made up of zinc fingers and a nuclease domain which cuts DNA. They can be used to introduce specific changes by making cuts at specific locations and allowing the cell's own repair mechanisms to fix the cuts. TALENs are similar to ZFNs but use a different type of DNA-binding domain made up of TAL effector proteins to recognize and bind to specific DNA sequences. CRISPR uses a small RNA molecule to guide a protein called Cas9 to specific locations in the genome, where it can cut the DNA and allow for the introduction of specific changes. All three technologies differ in the specific proteins and mechanisms they use to recognize and cut DNA.
Global Location of Biosafety Level 3 &4, Source: GlobalLabs
According to the Pandora Report from George Mason University's Graduate Programs in Biodefense, GOP lawmakers have introduced new legislation regarding gain-of-function (GoF) research in a more than 4,100 page bill. Page 3,354 of the bill states that, "beginning not later than 60 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall not fund research conducted by a foreign entity at a facility located in a country of concern... involving pathogens of pandemic potential or biological agents or toxins." It is suggested that there should also be a mechanism for governance regulation and transparency on biosafety labs worldwide.