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Can The Tablighi Jamaat’s Conference be India’s Own Epidemiological Diamond Princess?

By SOMALARAM VENKATESH, MD

“It has always been science versus fundamentalism, not science versus religion.” 

Abhijit Naskar, Biopsy of Religions: Neuroanalysis Towards Universal Tolerance

On February 3, 2020, the luxury cruise ship Diamond Princess docked on Japanese shores and was promptly quarantined with 3711 people on board, because a passenger who had disembarked at Hong Kong two days earlier had tested positive for SARS-Cov-2,  or also known as  COVID-19. Passengers & crew members were either repatriated or hospitalized in Japan over the next 4 weeks. In total,, more than 700 of them were found to be infected with the virus. This was a unique opportunity – a Petri dish in a ship, if you may – for epidemiologists and virologists to study the disease and the virus. 

At the beginning of this global pandemic, health care professionals and policymakers used data from the Diamond Princess experience and inferences thereof, such as infectivity & death rates, as a supplement to the observations from Wuhan. They used the data to derive models on how the pandemic will play out in the rest of the world. Later, after widespread devastation in Iran, Europe, & the United States, and after relative containment in Taiwan, South Korea & Singapore, experts have access to larger datasets & a variety of scenarios to help develop disease virulence predictions and control models. 

So far, authorities in the Indian subcontinent appear to copy strategies of other countries to combat the spread of the pandemic. The curves of exponential ascendency of COVID-19’s spread across countries appear identical in nature, except in a few where health care response is more regimented. Yet, there is speculation about the virus’s survival in India’s climatic conditions: Indians may have a better “innate resistance” and the impact of compulsory the BCG vaccination in most Indians may have some effect on the expression of the disease in the country. Therefore, it may be worthwhile for India to study the actual transmission, clinical expression, and outcomes of the disease in her own population and design responses to the pandemic based on those studies. 

That is to say, we must find our own Diamond Princess before we find our Wuhan. 

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