India’s War On Corona: Three Errors In Strategy

Bibekananda Ray

Days and weeks after the 14-hour ‘Janata Curfew’ on 22nd March and the start of the three-week nationwide ‘lockdown’ on 24th, enforced rigorously “to break the chain” of Corona march as well as massive preventive, diagnostic and treatment measures India’s war against the pandemic, as in other 194 victim countries, is nowhere near win. Not only the infected are dying in hordes abroad, some 780 crore people are on edge, fearing infection and death; nothing united the global population like this before. The situation is extremely fluid and changing from minute to minute. Broadly, the number of the infected the world over on 4th April has crossed 11 lakh and that of the dead 70,000; in India, in the first category are 2902 and in the second 70; 184 of the infected are said to have recovered. In West Bengal the figures are 60 and 3, if the jugglery by the Chief Secretary to keep them low is statistically correct. Lock down entered 13th day on 4th April and is expected to end on the 14th April, unless continued by staggering; a US intelligence speculates continuation of lockdown in India up to September, 20. Slight relaxation was announced on 4th April; farming and sale of farming implements and vehicular support in petrol pumps and highways have been exempted.

     Initially, in India, diagnosis was slow owing to paucity of test-kits and suspects evading tests and isolation but with fast acquisition of kits, ventilators etc. diagnosis and treatment by dedicated medical community are now on a wider scale. Modi and Mamata governments are not lacking in funds, efforts, sincerity and but nothing seems to be reining in the pandemic. West Bengal’s relatively low incidence and fatality could be just good luck but the opposition alleges manipulation. India too has earned the praise of the WHO for its massive measures; the errors alleged below are only on hindsight. The cabinet secretary has ruled out extension of the 21-day lockdown; PM was expected to announce a staggering to diminish hardships as every day, it is causing a loss of 35 thousand crore rupees. He did not but characteristically called for observing nine-minute black-out in homes on Sunday, 5th April at 2100 hrs. to prove that the Nation stood behind him and his party, BJP. It is a political move; no wonder, Congress quipped, “Then there is no need of treatment!”

Though NCOVID-19 is a new strain of Corona virus that originated in China in November, last year, it manifested first in 2002-’03 SARS  outbreak that killed 774 of 8098 infected all over the world, and of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome that killed 3 or 4 out of every 10 patients in Arabian Peninsula in 2012. A similar virus was found, years ago, in Yunnan province of China, some 1000 miles southwest of Wuhan in bats. Pangolins are also suspected as intermediate hosts passing from other wildlife species.  COVID’19 was named by Ms. Zheng Li Shi of Wuhan Institute of Virology; she took its origin to be the seafood and live animal market in Wuhan. The USA thinks, it is man-made, i.e., an innovation that leaked from the Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China. If it is so, its vaccine and drug will not be easy to find; if it is one of the myriads, existing dormant in human history, either or both are likely to be in place, some day. Scientists now think, nCOVID’19 is Nature’s revenge on non-vegetarians. Animal meat-eating, they say is a vice that can be given up, as vegetables can fully meet man’s need of protein and other essential nutrients. Meat-eating in the West is perceived as the cause of large-scale deforestation and disappearance of grazing fields and extinction of species. As of now, no doctor of any country has ever treated it.

No virus is ever wholly eradicated from the earth; smallpox which the WHO claimed has been completely uprooted has returned. With timely diagnosis and correct treatment only the incidence can be diminished or controlled. The first three cases in India were diagnosed on 29th January, 2nd and 3rd February, this year in Kerala; all of them were local students who were back home on vacation from Wuhan, where Corona first broke out. Initially, China hid or manipulated the number of the infected and the dead; President Trump believes, Beijing is still doing it. Then it spread like wild fire and winged its way to the right and left, to faraway Italy, Spain, France, Germany, U.K. and crossed the Atlantic to take epidemic form in the USA. Italy whose tolls exceeded those of China soon had its first case in Rome in January, a Chinese traveller; its ageing population fell easy prey because of low immunity and greater susceptibility. While every victim country was failing to contain it, doctors in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau with majority Chinese diaspora  succeeded somewhat by applying their experience of treating SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) that broke out in in 2003; symptoms of Corona are similar but not the same. Singapore having many direct air links with China suspended flights to and fro, checked passengers from Wuhan who had arrived recently and re-tested all influenza and pneumonia cases, treated in its hospitals.  The UN body has admitted that it under-estimated the potential of the NCVD-19 to become pandemic but woke up as it spread worldwide. India also ignored it until 29th January, the entry date; it woke up only in early March after Delhi riots had subsided.

India’s Errors
FIRST ERROR: The first error was that the government did not disclose that the first three victims were students from Kerala who had returned home from Wuhan on summer vacation. If it did, a ban on all international flights, particularly to and from China, would have been justified and borne fruit. Flights from India to various cities in China are operated by some dozen airlines that run 34 flights a week. Entry of Indians was banned from EU countries, Iran and the UK on 18th March. Two days later, on the 20th, New Delhi temporarily banned entry of foreigners until 15th April. Some international air lines suspended flights to India for a week. On newsbreak of the virus on 20th January this year, India traditionally built up its modern medical education and infrastructures on the lines of the West because of its colonial link and therefore, did not look east, faced with a deadly virus of Chinese origin and followed WHO prescriptions. To make matters worse, misleading people, some BJP and RSS leaders ludicrously claimed cure and prevention by intake of cow urine and cow dung and even forced them on some, with no reports of success. Pittsburgh University in the USA claims to have innovated a vaccine that works in Corona-infected rats but is yet to pass human trial.

ERROR TWO: The WHO initially recommended wearing masks, testing by kit, isolation, quarantine, ‘social distancing’ etc. but nothing on treatment; India fashioned its strategy on this model. The PM and other Central ministers stayed away and discouraged holi revelries so that people did not touch one another. The good response to the Janata Curfew, highlighted by universal clapping for the medical community at Prime Minister’s instance on 22nd March made him proclaim a continuous three-week lockdown from 24th, also on Western model. Road and rail traffic was totally suspended, flights were curtailed or banned and people were ad nauseam asked through the media and the police to keep indoors for avoiding contamination by touch. The nation came to a standstill with incalculable damage to a moribund economy; educational institutions were closed, examinations postponed and even medical emergencies were advised suspension or deferment. Supplies of daily necessities, medicines etc. were, however, maintained but buyers were made to observe ‘safe distance’; even a Chief Minister drew circular Lakshman Rekha before shops to demonstrate. All these were done when the government knew that lockdowns in China, Italy, Spain and the USA were coming to naught to “break the chain of Corona spread”, as claimed by Mr. Modi and tolls were going up in G P. Instead of lockdown which caused massive loss and dislocation, if India had rigorously enforced its different components, the purpose would have been served with much less damage, financial loss and distress. That lockdown did not help or hinder   the incessant march of Corona epidemic and in fact, was ineffective, is borne out by the steady rise in new cases on most of the days since it was clamped on 24th March. On that day, the total number of the infected was 562 with 64 new cases. Next day, 94 new cases were added, which fell to 80 on 26th but soared to 130 on the 27th. Falling to 126 on 28th, it rose again to 132, next day, to 179 on 30th, jumped to 315 on 31st, to 418 on 1st April, to 544 on the 2nd but fell to on 3rd April. The sudden spurt by 136 cases on 31st March is attributed to the infected among Nizamuddin pilgrims which continues. If one examines lockdown, one would be disillusioned about its necessity. It is to prevent proximity among people in public transports, markets, stadia, clubs, shops, malls etc. Thus, if social distancing is rigorously enforced, lockdown would be unnecessary.

ERROR THREE: Like a bolt from the blue, came a delayed report in end-March of a huge international Islamic congregation in Nizamuddin Darga complex in south Delhi from 9th to 15th January’20 and disappearance of some 2500 Muslim clerics and devotees from the complex, who had assembled there for some religious rites but could not return to their places because of lockdown from 24th March. A manhunt is now on to identify and test them in States they came from. As on 4th April, some 1023 cases have been tested positive in 17 states, maximum in Tamilnadu. Hunt is on for more suspects who might have contaminated others. The Jamaat was not on the radar of Delhi and Central governments whose seats are within 10 kilometres of Nizamuddin. In hindsight, it was not an error but a ‘Himalayan blunder’. When NSA, Ajit Doval intervened, it was very late; the contagion had gone into incubation in thousands of pilgrims. Instead of holing up so many Muslim devotees from all over the world in the sacred but cramped complex from 24th, the police could ferry them to their respective destinations under surveillance.

The Corona blitz has a flipside too. Before its outbreak, Delhi saw one of its worst communal orgies with a toll of at least 50. The Home Minister, Amit Shah accused the the Congress of triggering it, whereas the entire Opposition and Delhi High Court pointed finger to harangues by some BJP leaders. The riots were the climax of anti-CAA protests and rallies by Muslims. Since May last year, after the return of the BJP-led NDA-II to power, the country was riven by debates on the government’s denial of Statehood to J & K, abrogation of Article 370, on the Citizenship Amendment Act, the announcement for National Population Registration, the threat of the NRC, as a corollary and the sagging economy. Corona has taken the wind out of the sails of these controversial issues.

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Apr 9, 2020

Bibekananda Ray

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