What is personal space? That immediate area surrounding a person into which encroachment would feel uncomfortable and invasive.
It is December 2019 and the upcoming festive season calls seductively. We have battled gamely through the year. A year fraught with stresses hidden around most corners and yet we conquered all obstacles along the way.
Time to savour the victory and enjoy the rewards. This year we have saved our pennies and decided to spend Christmas in London. A city that vibes to its own frequency, a city that confidently proclaims its lofty global status and a city I love. It will be our first winter in the Queen's hometown and my gang and I are beyond excited.
A well curated list of London’s finest attractions await, while my taste buds can already taste the city’s famous fish and chips. A little vinegar with mine, please. The queen rolls out the red carpet for all global guests, and her city does not disappoint. There is always a classy air about London Town and one always feels privileged to be a part of it. To put it mildly, the atmosphere is electric. Oxford and Regent street are jam-packed with people and there is no space in any direction. We have no choice but to spill off the sidewalk onto the street.
The electric angels that light rhythmically overlooking the boulevards guard and protect us all. There is no social distancing and we are all merry. It is a glorious time to be on this planet.
How times have changed. It is now December 17, 2021 and the most valuable commodity on this hurtling rock called earth is our own personal space (along with a mask and vaccine). The disease caused by the virus SARS-Cov-2, more commonly known by its COVID moniker ravages our planet. Our collective death toll is 5.3 million people. Is this the script for Hollywood’s latest horror blockbuster? Unfortunately, this is the world’s sad reality today.
But where did COVID come from? Let’s dig into our recent history and maybe it may provide some clues. It is now November 2002, 17 years before our first COVID case. SARS-Cov-1 jumped to wildlife traders from civets, badgers and raccoon dogs at a wet market in Guandong, China. Experts agree that wet markets provide a perfect environment for viruses to mix, shuffle and mutate to produce strains that are deadly to humans. Could this be the case for COVID? Or, as the conspiracy theorists suggest, could it have come as a result of a lab accident?
Huanan, a once bustling market, is central to the debate regarding the pandemics origin. It is visited by thousands of visitors everyday and has rows upon rows of wild animals kept in cramped unhygienic conditions to feed the local restaurants. It is close to a school, a couple of shopping malls, residential blocks and Hankou railway station. During the Spring Festival chunyun, 100,000 people pass through the station. COVID spiraled out of control during this time. Lab theorists point out that the “index case”, the first known case of COVID, was a 41-year-old accountant who had no contact with Huanan market. Subsequent investigation revealed that this may not be the case. This patient was initially diagnosed with a dental problem and only developed COVID symptoms eight days later. This would then make Wei Guixian the index case. She sold prawns at Huanan market. Of the initial 20 cases, nine also worked at the market and one who had no market exposure had friends who had been there and visited his home. In the next cluster of more than 100 cases, none had any link to Huanan but all lived in its IMMEDIATE vicinity. This provides strong evidence that community transmission had already begun and why many early cases had no exposure to Huanan. We know that people with little or no symptoms can easily spread the virus. There is another compelling clue that points to a wet market animal origin for the virus. Many of the initial cases at Huanan were clustered around where the animals were kept.
What do the lab theorists base their ideas upon? A major one is the fact that there appears to be no widespread circulation of SARS-Cov-2 in animals. None of the 80,000 tested samples by the Chinese team of the WHO mission managed to turn up the virus. Without evidence of an animal infected with a coronavirus that is 99% identical to COVID these scientists argue against a natural origin.
While the debate rages back and forth, the majority of scientists believe Wuhan’s Huanan market was almost certainly the site of a spillover of SARS-Cov-2 from animals to humans, rather than a lab leak. Many of the people first infected worked and lived in and around the area.
Apart from the scientists, the world loves a conspiracy theory. The excitement and the intrigue stimulate our brain’s pleasure centres. Surely I could postulate that aliens taking a Sunday space ride landed on earth, released the COVID virus and are now relaxing on their planet watching their version of Netflix. Who could disprove that? But the bottom line is two years later, this pandemic, with its heels firmly dug in, continues to torment. The vaccines and continued vaccination have smoothened out the edges of fear and we yearn for better days. While Omicron has made its dramatic appearance, fortunately for now, the symptoms are mild and tolerable. We pray that we can leave COVID in the rearview mirror, or more likely coexist without drama and angst. Hopefully, the day where we would gladly sacrifice our treasured personal space for some excitement in London Town will return. Maybe we could even have a cuppa tea with the queen? No sugar for me.