In the midst of a worldwide alarm over the infection and deaths caused by the pandemic, a brochure titled ‘Covid-19 — Be careful, not fearful’, issued by the New Delhi-based AIIMS, is very reassuring and conveys a clear and strong message. There is no substitute to taking precautions for own safety but there is no cause to be fearful. We must not, therefore, panic because Covid-19 may not be the same venomous monster in every part of the globe.
The virulence of Covid-19 in different geographical regions and its impact on different societies has varied. Therefore, predictions based on mathematical models and trajectories of infections and deaths in one part of the world do not necessarily hold good everywhere. For predicting the impact of Covid-19 in India, it is necessary to factor in its younger population; lesser lifestyle-related susceptibilities restricted to a small population in metros and big cities; immunity, weather, latitude, mutations in the virus etc. So far, all these factors seem to be going India’s way.
The countrywide lockdown, despite its serious repercussions on the economy, was inevitable. It has indeed provided us the much-needed headstart to bring the situation under control. Lockdown has slowed the spread of the infection. It provided time to increase the healthcare infrastructure countrywide. It has prevented a sudden spike in cases that would have overwhelmed our fragile healthcare infrastructure causing panic and helplessness. It has also provided a window for a massive safety awareness drive to prevent infections.
We did falter seriously in not factoring in the migration of workers who were left in the lurch to save their lives after their livelihoods had been snatched. The lockdown could have been better timed in consultation with the states, allowing and facilitating migrant workers to travel back to their homes in safety and without hassles. The heart-rending sight of hordes of men, women and little children walking long distances in hot sun should haunt our collective conscience for neglecting these voiceless citizens. Curiously, these migrating workers, ill-equipped to follow social distancing norms or take precautions, have neither been identified as carriers nor found responsible for creating any hotspots at their destinations. The rural India, largely bereft of healthcare infrastructure, has also not reported any major hotspot. The lockdown did slow the spread but could not have locked the virus. These developments give credence to the suggestion of reduced virulence of Covid-19 in Indian conditions or a better immune system that has disallowed serious manifestations of the infections or both? There can be many more reasons in complex biological processes but that should not worry us too much at this stage.
This argument is empirically supported by a much lower number of Covid-positive cases detected per 100 tests in India as compared to the rest of the world. As on May 11, the number of Covid-positive cases detected in India stood at 67,724 from a tested population of 1.67 million. The proportion of those testing positive in India thus stands at 4 per cent of tested cases as against 14.5 per cent in the US, 12 per cent in the UK, 10.7 per cent in Spain and 8.5 per cent in Italy. India is placed better on this parameter than even Japan (7.3 per cent) where there have been fewer cases and fatalities. This brings to India a big advantage in the fight against Covid-19.
There is no need to unduly panic at the current spike in cases. With one lakh tests, we should expect 4,000 new cases per day (4 per cent) till we inch towards herd immunity in urban centres. The Covid-19 graph for India will start flattening only when the number of new cases is less than the cured cases in a day. India must also not read too much in the percentage of recovered cases which stand currently at 31 per cent. With 5-7 per cent mortality the world over, we have to ultimately reach a recovery of 93-95 per cent. It is a matter of time.
So far, in India, 1.67 million Covid-19 tests have been carried out as against 9.44 million in the US. At the current capacity, it will take 3-4 months to cover a mere one per cent of the population, mostly in metros and large urban conglomerates with access to healthcare facilities. Let there be no illusion that our testing capacity and health infrastructure can match the size of our population. Covid-19 will, meanwhile, spread through the length and breadth of the country. The immune system of the populace and the virulence of Covid-19 will come into play. There will be infections, mild or severe, curing without hospitalisation and occasional mortality of the aged or those with health pre-conditions. We have to take these damages in our stride with sensitivity, compassion and preparedness by hugely empowering the district administration throughout the country. The district administration should now play a pivotal role with the state and Union governments defining a broad outline for the lockdown exit.
There is no specific medication for Covid-19 till a vaccine becomes available expectedly in 12-18 months. The lockdown has achieved its objective and can’t continue endlessly. Ultimately, every country has to move towards herd immunity irrespective of the model adopted to deal with the pandemic. Meanwhile, we have to be alert, make protection against Covid-19 a way of life, and protect the aged or those with medical conditions, who are known to be more vulnerable to infection and mortality. India has done well so far in its war against Covid-19. There is no reason to be fearful nor must we lower our guard.
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