As India eases the COVID lockdown, this is what is terrifying. The only curve that has flattened seems to be that of the economy. The cases of infection are rising.
And, then you see a tweet like this from a CM of a state/muncipality with one of the highest mortality rates.
I know that from the point of view of the economy, we really can’t afford to be under lockdown anymore – especially with a government adamant about not having direct cash transfers to the most economically impacted sections. However, as cases spike on a daily basis, we have a problem. And, this is not just the problem of the Government – centre or state – it is a problem for all of us – as we face an unseen enemy, questions about what can be used to curb it, and a major shortage in public and private healthcare facilities. What do we do if we fall ill – even if that illness is not the coronavirus? Is there even infrastructure available, at an affordable price for us to be healed?
Did we lockdown too soon, and lift it too early?
Hindsight is always 20-20, and the Government of India, like other governments took the best call it could under the circumstances. However, there were serious errors made – a function of poor planning, and fear of bad PR from the media that is focused on middle class perception and audiences. I would put the mistakes under two broad heads
The failure to compulsorily lockdown / quarantine the middle class that returned from abroad
They were advised self-quarantine – but given our middle class’ disdain for rules that apply to them – check out the way we honk, or double park, or get up and crowd even after being told to keep seated, when the plane comes to a standstill – that was a bad call. Those who could afford to fly – and this includes software professionals, holidaymakers, kids of bureaucrats, students returning back, business professionals, politicians, and Tabligi Jamaat preachers. While much of media attention was focused on demonizing the last one, the rest were allowed to go scot-free and spread the bug. I wrote about it here and got quite a few brickbats from those who thought i was being unkind to the middle class.
The failure to understand the economic fall out on out of state daily wage workers with no safety net
There is lip service towards the economically backward sections, but little to show in terms of action. The way the Centre planned and the states implemented the issue of the lockdown vis-a-vis migrant workers was criminal neglect. Had the lockdown been staggered upfront, it would have been possible for out of state workers to return to their home states, with dignity. As hundreds of people began walking home, the sheer apathy and lack of empathy of the system towards those who keep the country running, was apparent. While there are reports of 198 people dying on the road, due to accidents, we have no clue of the rest. There are people who died in trains (80), people who died of hunger, people who committed suicide (300_ , people who just died because of lack of planning by the administration.
Are we more immune to COVID19?
While defenders of the COVID Lockdown would look at the figures and say only 6900 plus dead, the figures would be worse if there were no lockdown – the answer is that we don’t really know.
The mortality rate has been low in India. But, India has also been less prone to casualties due to other types of influenza. Bird Flu, Swine Flu et al impacted India lesser than it did other nations. According to the NCDC, there were approximately 1200 deaths in 2019, due to H1N1. Even the ordinary flu that kills 10’s of thousands of people in the USA every year, has comparatively little impact in India. I am not sure if it is the weather, our innate immunity to all bugs – given the number of bugs we battle daily – or collective prayers of people – but, we seem to be more resilient towards certain illnesses. We seem more prone to get TB, and Dengue, and Malaria and die from it.
What next for us?
It would have been untenable to continue the lockdown post the 31st of May. The 4th lockdown was mostly a failure, with people breaking the rules merrily. The sheer boredom of being locked in, for those with jobs that could be done from home; and the sheer desperation of those who had to go out and work – had already seen the numbers on the roads increase. Most of us saw people with masks on their chins going about their business.
As the COVID lockdown is lifted and more people are up and about, there is going to be a surge in cases. As we have all seen the big cities, Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai are all woefully under prepared to handle this. We seem to have run out of hospital beds, and doctors, nurses and other health care workers are stretched beyond breaking point.
For those of us who are lucky enough to work from home, and order on-line, and minimize human contact, and therefore chances of infection – we are lucky. However, most of us are probably going to go back into the outside world at some point of time, with lowered immunity because we have cut ourselves off from all forms of bugs that our body would have otherwise fought.
Most of us, even those of us who are lucky enough to still have a job, may not be able to afford hospital fees. And, this figure quoted below seems to be at the lower end of the spectrum. I have been reading horror stories about medical bills. So the only alternative is to stay put and pray that you don’t fall ill. It is likely that if you go into hospital, you will return with some other bug.
That we have to get back to work and lift ourselves out of the economic doldrums is a given. There is no choice. We just need to be aware that this is not over. The danger has not passed. That all of us, especially those with elderly families, have to be extra careful, and extra mindful about what we do.
This is gong to be exacerbated by those who think wearing a mas
And we need to understand that the system is fairly inept at taking care of those in need – and to expect them to rise to the occasion is futile.