by Mansoureh Tajik for The Saker Blog
In an essay published on the Saker blog at the beginning of March, I wrote with a restrained skepticism about the novel coronavirus, the narratives surrounding the severity of its adverse health impacts compared to its cousins causing other influenza epidemics, and its reported mortality rates both in Iran and elsewhere. Now, towards the end of March some three weeks, five continents, one hundred ninety two countries, three hundred twenty thousand cases, and thirteen thousand four hundred deaths, and one official pandemic announcement by World Health Organization later, my original skepticism has evolved into a nagging, nuanced, and forcefully persistent suspicion. A lot of things just do not add up.
In this essay, I would like to examine this locally-specific globally-diffused novel coronavirus phenomenon from two distinct yet interlinked angles. From one angle, we look at the phenomenon as an infectious respiratory disease epidemic as it is experienced and weathered by ordinary people in Iran while at the same time, juxtaposing the people’s experiences with the official reports of morbidities and mortalities that are either confirmed and/or alleged to be caused by nCoV-19 and/or other factors. From the second angle, we follow this phenomenon as part of a socially-constructed phantom pandemic buttressed with multiple connotations of a zombie virus and amalgamated by death from other causes.
Firstly, I am not using the word zombie in a derogatory manner just to be disrespectful of this lifeless creature. Rather, the use of the term is meant to instill an interest in the readers to dig deeper into the history of the development of these sorts of viruses should they be interested. Cambridge Dictionary defines zombie as “a frightening creature that is a dead person who has been brought back to life without human qualities. Zombies are not able to think and they are often shown as attacking and eating human beings.” The evidence that grandparent of this virus and its relatives may have been dug up from the remnants of civilians and soldiers who died of influenza in 1918, reversed engineered, and genetically augmented in series of experiments far exceeds the evidence that it did not. Exploring potentially choreographed intentional and/or accidental releases of the virus with respect to epidemiological trio of person, place, and time, though interesting and informative, is not the topic of this essay.
SARS-cov-2 as an Infectious Respiratory Disease Epidemic Experienced in an Ordinary Way
Let us exclude detailed information about the statistics, routes and mechanism of exposure and infection, biological progression of the disease, and finally the outcome (recovery or death) of this disease since enough easy to follow information about them is available online. They will not be repeated here unless they are used as specific references. Instead, we will take a look at examples of scenarios about what ordinary people in Iran have been encountering on a daily basis and how they have been dealing with the epidemic. Some details are included in case they prove useful for others elsewhere around the globe.
A vast majority of the people are not experiencing any signs and symptoms of any flu. They mostly read and/or hear about someone who knew someone who had it. Very few who are experiencing some illness, their symptoms include severe headache, overall body ache, dry coughs, and high fever. Shortness of breath ranges from non-existent in some, moderate in most, severe in very few individuals. A greater number of people are opting to stay at home, do self-treatment with traditional Iranian and herbal medicine instead of visiting hospitals.
Home recovery procedures look something like this: Very close relatives and immediate extended families who live close by designate one of their apartments or one segment of a large house to the ill person. One person (a parent, a spouse, a son or a daughter, a brother or a sister, or grandchildren if they are grown up) becomes the designated care taker equipped with gloves, mask, and disinfectant spray bottle. Foods, bone broth, and herbal teas are prepared elsewhere by other members of the family and delivered to the ill person and the caretaker. Everything, and I mean everything, is thoroughly washed and disinfected before and after use. On average, it is taking somewhere from four to nine days for the person to completely recover. But the duo remain quarantined for two full weeks. Afterwards, the entire area gets a thorough disinfecting; cloths, bed sheets, towels and more are washed separately. The entire family remains on alert for several days in case signs and symptoms appear in anyone else. If yes, the same cycle repeats itself. Otherwise, life goes on as “unusual” (avoiding gatherings and crowds).
Daily treatment routine for the ill and the preventive measures for the family is roughly as follows (the person with no symptoms follows the treatment less frequently throughout the day):
- Drinking, in regular and constant sips, plenty of fluids (between 12-15 glasses) of non-diary and see-through nature, like water and herbal infusions. These liquids help clear the mouth and throat area from viral and microbial accumulation (it does not destroy but flushes them down). Less accumulation of pathogens makes it easier for the immune system to fight off the viruses.
- Gargling with salt water and nasal rinsing with the same every 3 hours or so keeps both the numbers and the viability of the viruses in the mouth, throat, and nasal passages lower. Please note, the salt water does not actively kill any viruses or bacteria. It does, however, change the available water and pressure in viral-infected tissue and bacterial cells within the mucus of the respiratory system (i.e. through salt-triggered osmosis). Once the water is drawn out of the viral and bacterial cells, the virus ceases to propagate easily and it becomes more manageable for the immune system to fight the infection.
- Laying down and/or sleeping in a semi-sitting position (i.e., head and shoulder area raised at about a 30- to 35-degree angle) until completely recovered. This position reduces the probability that some viruses are aspirated into the lung and there is less likelihood that lung infection would occur in the course of the disease progression. Please note, this position does not eliminate viral aspiration but reduces the likelihood of that happening. Therefore, there would be less chance for breathing difficulties and need for hospitalization.
- Consuming natural virus-fighting plants like raw garlic (one clove every 6-8 hours) on time and just like taking antibiotic pills. Anti-viral potential of raw garlic is very well-studied[7,8,9,10,11]. Despite ample evidence, there are voices from within medical establishments that try to create ambiguity about the effectiveness of raw garlic. I was curious to know why. It turned out, at least among those with whom I had discussions, they fear people relying too much on these “home remedies” and not seeking professional medical help for “real remedies.” Hmmm.
- Consuming anti-inflammatory herbs like mints, raw honey, and turmeric to help reduce the burden on the immune system so that it could fight off the virus.
- Using absolutely no pain killer, over-the-counter medication for cold and flu, and corticosteroid inhalers. These treatments make the situation turn bad quite rapidly. I found detailed account of experiences from China published in a report titled, Handbook of COVID-19 Prevention and Treatment published by the First Affiliated Hospital, Zhejiang University School of Medicine very helpful. In addition, the experiences of many here have shown this advice to be wise.
- Avoiding worries, stress, and/or anxiety about the illness or other issues. With stress, cortisol levels increases which in turn leads to weaker immune system, higher rates of secondary infections, breathing difficulties, and possibly higher mortality in influenza.
Most people are opting out of going to hospitals unless their breathing becomes too labored and difficult to manage independent of some respiratory equipment. It appears some of the deaths that occur in hospitals are not due to the influenza itself but due to errors in administering medications, improper use of ventilation equipment, and other factors. Given the hospital personnel work under very stressful conditions, in general, and during an epidemic, in particular, errors are a sure bet. A careful reading of the Handbook of COVID-19 Prevention and Treatment provides extremely valuable insights into the real causes of death for a good fraction of patients who are/were hospitalized because of CoVid-19. Administering the wrong medications, inadequate monitoring of ventilators, cross contamination, insertion injuries, and more appear to be some of the reasons for mortality in Covid-19 patients.
Other encounters that are shaping ordinary people’s overall perception about this infectious disease epidemic could be illustrated through the following examples. Increasingly more people are experiencing these encounters now almost on a daily basis.
- An elderly man (about 77 years old) with unmanaged diabetes who had been very resistant to taking his medications and modifying his diet for many years. Over the years, he had lost vision in one then the other eye due to diabetes. His kidneys were not working well. He collapsed one afternoon and was taken to the hospital. Within less than 24 hours, his kidneys failed, his lungs collapsed, he went into coma and passed away. He was reported as a “corona patient” to his family and in the hospital report. He was buried not as a regular dead person but as a “corona” person (without the regular Muslim ritual washing and prayers). The family was told to be in quarantine for at least 14 days.
- An elderly woman (about 82 years old) with a history of heart disease experienced sudden and severe shortness of breath and was taken to the hospital in one of the provinces. Her own physician diagnosed her to have a possible heart attack but that hospital had a shortage of proper equipment (courtesy of illegal and unilateral US sanctions on all things medical). She was taken (hours of travel by car) to a hospital in Tehran where “corona patients” were hospitalized as well. She died within hours. She was reported to have died of corona. Her body was transferred back to her hometown and buried according to the same protocol as above (for “corona deaths”) with no ritual washing and the family was told to be in self quarantine for a couple of weeks.
- Another elderly woman in her eighties with lung cancer had been in and out of hospital for the past four and a half months with serial lung infections. Due to having extreme difficulty breathing, she was taken to the hospital and died within hours. Her death was classified as “corona death” and the same routine as above for burial and family quarantine was carried out.
On March 27, the number of infected was at 29,406, the number of recovered was at 10,457, and the number of dead due to nCov-19 was at 2,234 as announced by the Iranian Ministry of Health. Increasingly, however, above examples are casting doubts regarding official statistics announced on a daily. Another noteworthy pattern is that quite a few people recall getting the exact same symptoms some two, three, or even four months ago and having recovered from it. Now, they say, “it is called corona.” Then, they say, “It was called a bad flu from a new virus.”
Just to wrap up the discussion of ordinary Iranian people’s experience of the current phenomenon as an infectious respiratory disease epidemic and jump to the next segment, I summarize the key points [I really appreciate it when the Saker does it and I find it rather useful. Imitation is the highest form of flattery.]:
- Vast majority of people do not experience any symptoms.
- Most people who do experience symptoms (with different intensity) recover within 4 to 9 days.
- Most people are opting for known remedies and traditional medicine and self-quarantine.
- Fear and anxiety appear to act as co-factors to make the illness progressively worse.
- Increasingly more people are becoming skeptical of official statistics regarding death from corona.
- It is possible the influenza epidemic began many months before its actual official start.
Covid-19 Infectious Disease as a Socially-constructed Phantom Pandemic
The Iranian New Year for 1399 (HS) began on Friday, 1st of Farvardin (March 20) at 7:19:37 in the morning. Every year, this is the time for kids to wear new and colorful cloths and for everyone go to visit all relatives beginning with the elders. Hugs, kisses, exchanging gifts, giving and receiving crisp and new money are all part of the tradition. This year, none of these occurred for most people. In addition, right at the changing of the year, we begin each New Year with the following prayer:
ا مقلّب القلوب و الابصار، یا مدبّر اللیل و النّهار، یا محوّل الحول و الاحوال، حوّل حالنا الی احسن الحال
[“O, the One Who transforms the hearts and perceptions, O, the One Who expedites the turning of the night and the day, O, You who renews the years and our circumstances, change our condition to the best of conditions.”
Last Minute Pivot
I had written an entirely different segment from this section forward. However, for reasons that will not be explained, right before sending the article to the Saker, I changed my mind and with that I changed the direction of the discussion.
When I express skepticism and use terms like “phantom pandemic,” or “zombie virus,” or say a lot of things are not adding up about the atmosphere created around Covid pandemic, I am not speaking from the perspective of someone who is alien to the field, or is a casual observer with cursory knowledge of the subject, or lacks the relevant and proper scientific understanding and skills to interpret these disease events. Quite the contrary, I am speaking from the perspective of someone who has been in the field for years and is well-versed in the subject. It is from educational and experiential knowledge of someone who has collected, analyzed, and interpreted data in order to design and implement projects that could perhaps lower the rates of morbidity and mortalities from infectious and non-infectious diseases by a fraction, a decimal point, and just a few number in a thousand, or a hundred thousand population. Furthermore, for years and semester after semester, I had to teach students methods, approaches, analytical techniques about how to differentiate between apparent patterns of things (diseases, mortalities, toxins, pathogens, etc.) and their actual patterns. They have to be able to critically examine how to determine there is a causal link between a virus, for example, and a given disease, when there is an association, when there are co-factors and more.
With the current “pandemic” situation, I see before me is a series of ineptly-conducted non-systematic and haphazard data collection, opaque and questionable diagnostic procedures, falsely classified deaths, and more that are used as data points, numbers, and information to present some patterns as real. I ask myself why?
I listen to well-known “experts” in the field (connected to CDC, WHO, NIH, and others) and I can see how, in a very crafty way, they try to conflate and augment COVID-19 with other factors, other numbers, and other events to make this real but manageable infectious disease into a giant crisis of global proportion that it is not. Again, I ask myself why? Why is it that hundreds of elderly people in that and that country in Europe who were abandoned in their nursing home facilities for days without any water or food, without their needed medication, drenched in their urine and feces and dying a tragic death were classified as COVID-19 deaths and reported as such? Based on what evidence other than the fact that some group somewhere in some royal health tower decided that even if in doubt, those deaths should be classified as “confirmed”?
Receiving numbers as data points from around the world and feeding them to a geographic information system software and creating fancy and eye-catching online maps with red dots on black background like this as if you were presenting real-time presidential election results in red and blue meant for visually attention-grabbing real-time reports like this to keep people clenching the arms of their seats could not, should not, and will not substitute for sound, reliable, and valid methods and approaches. I ask again, why so many bells and whistles and so little substance?
In a study published last year by Paget (2019) and his colleagues, titled, “Global mortality associated with seasonal influenza epidemics: New burden estimates and predictors from the GLaMOR Project,” they state:
“Our study of global seasonal influenza-associated respiratory mortality is one of three influenza burden projects conducted in consultation with WHO; the others were led by the US-CDC and GBD project. We find that 389 000 deaths from respiratory causes are associated with influenza each year on average (range 294 000 – 518 000) during 2002-2011, excluding the 2009 pandemic season, implicating influenza in roughly two percent of all annual respiratory deaths.”
Now, if you look at the total number of deaths reported on Johns Hopkins University’s site for today (March 28) is 27,365. This is the total number from all countries that have reported for the past 4 months. I must add that this number represents all cases that were classified as “confirmed cases” not based on accurate and actual testing of each case but based on an administrative decision by hospitals and by participating countries’ respective ministries of health. Let’s suppose that many actually die and they are accurately diagnosed as COVID-19/SARS-Cov-2. Let us further suppose that number does not correspond to 4 months but every month we have that many deaths. Multiply that by 12 and compare that to 389,000 above. Why have we not been in a pandemic lock down and imprisonment of people in their homes all over the globe for the past 20 years? Why this year? Why this way? Why at all?
While I am remaining suspicious and skeptical, I ponder about some other things as well. I think, when a noun becomes an adjective, one must pay strict attention. We now have “corona deaths.” These are the type of deaths that do not get the ritual preparations and burials, normal gatherings to mourn the passing of the loved ones, and offer condolences to the grieving family members. We have “corona babies.” These are babies who are conceived during these stay-at-home-don’t-go-anywhere times and who will be born about seven or eight or nine or ten or more months from now. Talk about back-firing of a population-reduction strategy (as some suggest). We also have “corona greetings,” “corona looks,” and more. Happy Spring to all and a prayer: “O, the One Who transforms the hearts and perceptions, O, the One Who expedites the turning of the night and the day, O, You who renews the years and our circumstances, change our condition to the best of conditions.”
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