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Learning to live with coronavirus, writes Praveen Chakravarty – analysis


To get out of the blockade or not, that is the question. ” William Shakespeare’s paraphrased poem better captures the nation’s dilemma. Unlike Prince Hamlet, it is not about life itself but about a billion other lives. It is essential to make this decision on solid facts and evidence, not on fear or hope.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day total national blockade on March 24 to combat the coronavirus (Covid-19) epidemic, half a million people worldwide were infected, 20,000 people had died, and the virus it was sweeping through the nations. . Epidemiologists warned of alarming deaths and hospitalizations. Without a vaccine and in panic, world leaders, in herd behavior, adopted Wuhan’s model of locking up citizens to combat the epidemic. India did the same with Modi assuring the nation that social distancing was the only way to counter the virus and that a blockade would break the chain of infection.

March 24 was just a month ago, but it’s eons at Covid-19, as the world learns more about the disease every day. There is now more information, data and evidence to evaluate the closure strategy and chart the next one.

India now has more than 25,000 cases, up from 500 at the time of the closure announcement, with an average of 1,500 new cases reported daily. But this is a tricky metric. The total number of cases is simply a function of the number of people evaluated. The greater the number of tests, the greater the number of cases. For example, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and West Bengal make up a third of India’s population, but only a tenth of all Covid evidence and cases. Does anyone believe that Bihar, with 120 million people, has almost the same number of Covid cases as the Kurnool district in Andhra Pradesh with half a million people? It is highly likely that a more intensive stratified testing strategy would have revealed the cases multiple times than reported. It is now clear that the blockade has not broken the chain of infection nor is it a cure for Covid-19, as claimed.

The other goal of closure was to flatten the curve, along with available hospital capacity. India has one hospital bed for every 2,000 people; Bihar has one for every 10,000. In the United States or the United Kingdom, there is one for every 300 people. Even if India had miraculously doubled the number of hospital beds in a month and slowed the spread of the virus by half compared to other closing nations, it still would not be enough. Docking the curve in the Indian context is simply not a viable goal.

Did the blockade achieve social distancing? The idea of ​​distance is a luxury in a poor country. Almost all poor households in India have six or more members. Hundreds of millions of migrant workers often crowd into a room with six or more people in big cities. As reports show, locking people into their homes has been counterproductive.

So the blockade has not stopped the virus, flattened the curve or physically distanced the majority, the three goals set by the prime minister. It is also well established that the blockade has imposed severe humanitarian costs. In the absence of full information, the blockade at the time was the correct strategy, but it is now clear that it is not efficient for India.

After 20 million tests, 2.5 million cases, and just under 200,000 deaths worldwide, the following data on Covid-19 can now be established.

One, 99% of people under the age of 60 without pre-existing disease are safe and need not fear the disease. Two, the finding of the Indian Council of Medical Research is that more than 70% of Indians infected with Covid-19 are asymptomatic. Which means that they will not be aware of your infection, will unwittingly pass it on to others, and will recover without knowing it.

Three, even for vulnerable people, Covid-19’s death rate is not as high as initially calculated and may be the same as severe influenza, according to recent studies. And four, contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that the climate or genes provide natural immunity to Indians.

In short, most Indians can become infected and recover from Covid-19 without realizing it. A vaccine against the disease is not expected for at least 18 months. Until then, a blockade is neither a cure nor is it viable. India’s favorable demographics and a significantly lower mortality rate than estimated means that learning to live with the virus with caution is the only pragmatic strategy. This does not mean that India is free from Covid-19 danger or that it should throw caution to the wind. Weighing the compensations with a better understanding of the epidemic, returning to a “new normal” with adequate protection for the vulnerable, distancing and hygiene precautions are the most optimal strategy.

But there is extreme fear and panic, which is justifiable and understandable, given the sudden onset of a seemingly deadly new virus. People are petrified from contracting the infection, and unfortunately, there is also a social stigma associated with the disease. New evidence shows that such fear and panic are unwarranted and that the best option is a gradual return to a new and safe normalcy. High political leadership is needed to calm nations and lift people out of their deep fears. Just as President Franklin Roosevelt did in 1933 when he called on Americans to rid themselves of their fear of the Great Depression, with the words “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”

Praveen Chakravarty is a political economist and senior congressional officer.

The opinions expressed are personal.

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