Pandemic: RSTV – In Depth

Rajya Sabha TV programs like ‘The Big Picture’, ‘In Depth’ and ‘India’s World’ are informative programs that are important for UPSC preparation. This article covers details on pandemics, the difference between pandemic and epidemic; history of pandemics, the different phases of pandemics, precautions and the way forward.

Aspirants would find this topic very helpful while preparing for the IAS Exam.

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In Depth “Pandemic”:- Download PDF Here

What’s in News?

The World Health Organisation has declared COVID-19 outbreak to be a “Pandemic”.


  1. By the end of 2019, Chinese authorities sent out a public alert warning that a pneumonia of unknown cause had been identified in Wuhan, Central China.
  2. The disease has spread across the globe and has been declared a Pandemic by the World Health Organisation.

Glossary of Terms for Virus Outbreak:

  1. OUTBREAK: A sudden rise in cases of a disease in a particular place.
  2. EPIDEMIC: A large outbreak, one that spreads among a population or region. The current outbreak of a flu-like illness caused by a new virus in China is considered an epidemic.
  3. PANDEMIC: Generally refers to an epidemic that has spread on a more global scale, affecting large numbers of people.
  4. COVID-19:Name given to the illness caused by the new coronavirus first identified in China in December 2019. CO and VI are for coronavirus, D is for disease, and 19 for 2019. The virus itself is called SARS-cov-2.

Pandemic v/s Epidemic:

  1. The word”pandemic” comes from the Greek “pan-“, “all” + “demos,” “people or population” = “pandemos” = “all the people.” A pandemic affects all (nearly all) of the people.
  2. By contrast, “epi-” means “upon.” An epidemic is visited upon the people.
  3. Epidemic is a term that is often broadly used to describe any problem that has grown out of control.
  4. A pandemic infects more people than an epidemic.

What Does a Pandemic mean, and Who Decides that this is the One?

  1. Declaring a pandemic has nothing to do with changes to the characteristics of a disease (potency/deadliness), but is instead associated with concerns over its geographic spread.
  2. All pandemics start with an outbreak of a new disease in a specific geographic location.
  3. If that outbreak becomes larger, but still remains confined to a specific region, it becomes an epidemic.
  4. At that point, the WHO declares a public health emergency of international concern to raise awareness about it.
  5. Pandemic has self-sustaining lines of infection. It can spread in a healthy state, without assistance.
  6. There is no threshold, such as a certain number of deaths or infections, or number of countries affected, that needs to be met.
  7. Ultimately, the WHO gets the final say in declaring a Pandemic.


  1. An influenza pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus (or a strain of virus) spreads around the world and people have little or no immunity against the pandemic.
  2. Viruses that caused pandemics in the past originated from animal influenza viruses.
  3. Some influenza pandemics appear similar to seasonal influenza.
  4. Influenza pandemics are rare, but do reoccur periodically.

Phases that a Disease goes through to Turn into a Pandemic

  1. Based on the influenza outbreak in 1999, the World Health Organisation designed a pandemic preparedness plan. It also specifies infection prevention plans and certain precautions that must be followed.
  2. It presents an outline as to when the spread of disease is severe enough to take specific actions.
  3. How an epidemic spreads enough to be declared as a pandemic varies on the basis of the pathogenesis or pathway of a disease and other epidemiological factors.
  4. In 1999, the WHO released the first influenza pandemic preparedness plan in which it outlined the appropriate response based on 6 clearly outlined phases.
  5. Clearly, the aim of the plan is to coordinate the global response by providing countries a blueprint from which to draw up their own national strategies based on the available resources.

Phases of a Pandemic

  1. Phases 1, 2 and 3 are designed in order to help the public health officials to know that it is time to develop the action plans and tools to an impending threat; while phases 4 through 6 are when action plans are implemented in coordination with the WHO.
  2. WHO keeps track of all identified viruses (animal/human) through a set of phases or stages.

Phase 1: Viruses circulating within the animals only. No human infection has resulted from animal virus.

Phase 2: An animal virus has caused an infection in a human being. There is a basic level of pandemic threat as the virus strain has mutated to make that transfer to a human.

Phase 3: Small clusters of human beings have contracted the virus in one community. There is a potential for spread of the virus. At this point, the illness maybe epidemic in that community, but is not a pandemic.

Phase 4: Human to human and animal to human virus transmissions are causing outbreaks in many communities.

Phase 5: Human to human transmission is taking place in at least two countries in one WHO region. Most countries are not affected yet but a pandemic is considered imminent. This phase signals the health officials and the government to be ready to implement the pandemic mitigation plans.

Phase 6: Global pandemic is underway; illness widespread, officials actively working to curtail spread.

Post pandemic phase: After increase, disease-spreading activity begins to wane. Key is to be prepared to try to prevent a second wave.

History of Pandemics

Pandemics became more common as humans became more civilized, began to build cities and forged trade routes.

  1. The Great Plague of London
  • Bubonic Plague first appeared in the 14th century and surfaced for a second time in London in 1665 and killed about 20% of its population. Cats and dogs, believed to be the cause of source, were slaughtered.
  • The outbreak tapered off in 1666.
  • It still exists in rural areas of Western United States, parts of Africa and Asia.
  1. The Spanish Flu
  • The influenza flu pandemic of 1918 – 1919 killed between 20 and 40 million people.
  • It was caused by H1N1 virus with an avian origin.
  • It is one of the most devastating pandemics in recorded world history.
  1. The Asian Flu
  • The Asian Flu spread in East Asia in 1957.
  • It was a H2N2 strain first detected in Singapore, it made its way to Hong Kong, U.S.
  1. The Hong Kong Flu
  • The Flu Pandemic of 1968 originated in China in 1968.
  • It was caused by influenza A virus H3N2.
  • It was the third pandemic flu outbreak in the 20th century.
  1. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
  • In 2003, SARS epidemic took lives of nearly 800 people worldwide.
  1. Swine Flu
  • Occurred in 2009 with novel influenza virus H1N1. The virus was previously not identified in Humans or Animals.
  • It primarily affected children and middle-aged adults.
  • The Pandemic officially ended in August 2010. However, H1N1 continues to circulate as a seasonal flu virus, every year.
  1. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV):
  • First identified in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976, HIV Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) has proven itself as a global pandemic, killing more than 36 million people since 1981.

Precautions to Stop Pandemic

  1. Hand hygiene
  2. Using Personal Protective Equipment
  3. Following Respiratory Hygiene
  4. Employing Environmental Control
  5. Waste Management

Transmission of SARS virus within the health care facilities was often associated with a lack of compliance with these precautions.

Way Forward

  1. Preparation for a Pandemic threat calls for high health system capability for prevention, effective surveillance, early detection and containment of cases.
  2. It requires a large and well skilled health work force with public health expertise and well-resourced health care infrastructure apart from robust health information systems.
  3. It is essential for countries to work closely with state, local, territorial and tribal partners as well as public health partners in order to respond to this Pandemic.

In Depth “Pandemic”:- Download PDF Here

The above details would help candidates prepare for UPSC 2020.

Related Links

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