Strike, at the hidden heart of epidemic

Strike, at the hidden heart of epidemic

How Contagion Works by Paolo Giordano. Translated from the Italian by Alex Valent. Orion/Hachette India. Pages 80. Rs 225

Book Title: How Contagion Works

Author: Paolo Giordano

Aditi Tandon 

Italian physicist Paolo Giordano’s How Contagion Works couldn’t have arrived at a better time. It lands simultaneous to a peaking Covid-19 curve in India and sends out a clear message to governments and communities alike: if you want to beat the virus, learn from it.

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 The greatest learning to have from the Sars-Cov2 contagion is its ability to change, adapt and do so quickly, argues the author, nudging people to change their behaviours in order to make it harder for the virus to jump from one person to another. This, the book shows, is possible only through self-sacrifice by way of physical distancing and isolation. Giordano, a PhD in theoretical physics, employs domain knowledge to argue through his work that epidemics are mathematical emergencies that can be faced in the realm of equations. His pithy account of Cov-2 not only trails the contagion, it also shows readers how best to block the viral path.

The book offers a solution to halt the march of the contagion with the author asking the world to strike at the “hidden heart of the epidemic”, which epidemiologists note by the symbol “R nought (R0)” — reproduction number.

The book in its earlier part explains that the contagion was always meant to infect more and more people with increasing speed — the speed that depends on Covid-19’s R0 number which is 2.5. In the later part, Giordano hands out hope to readers of taking down the virus by demonstrating how R0 can change and more importantly how, in many ways, it is down to us people to change it.

This book doesn’t just analyse the problem, it also talks solutions. The author dives into mathematical equations to show nations that if they can hold R0 at a level lower than 1, they can virtually bring the pandemic to a grinding halt. “Lowering R0 is the mathematical reason behind our self sacrifice” is the physicist’s take in his new work that maps the way Cov2 sees the world — in three categories of Susceptible, Infected and Recovered people. Giordano’s solution for policy makers is to keep an eye on the Susceptibles, for this category features the billions that have not yet contracted the virus but can do so anytime. The only way to stop the contagion is to reduce the number of persons susceptible to it.

At a deeper level, the book speaks of how epidemics are the ultimate proof of the world being interconnected and of how in the contagion the globe becomes a community again. The book is worthy of attention for many reasons, most of all for its parting message: Humankind’s indifference to the environment has heightened the possibilities of contacts with pathogens that once lived happily in their natural niches. That’s no longer the case and Covid is not the last pandemic we will see.