India: Corona Disaster in Slow Motion?
There is no doubt in anybody’s mind that the Lockdown decision in March was wise one. One can of course argue that short term migrants could have been handled way better but the lack of experience in handling a pandemic of this nature may be the reason for the issues that emerged later.
The problem for India has begun now
The whole idea of the lockdown was to fully isolate the infection and bring it down to manageable levels. And in most countries, relaxations were announced after cases started to trend downwards. In India, we have announced relaxations even when cases have been hitting new highs. Therefore, the relaxations after the 3rd Lockdown have started to hurt India now.
In the last 10 days, India has added nearly 82000 Cases, it was 59000 cases in the 10 days prior to that. If this rate continues, we will add between 3-4 lakh cases by the end of this month. And given our case fatality rate, that would be about a total close to 15000 deaths in total by the end of this month.
The problem is that when states and the centre began to start implementing relaxations, it did not appear to be inefficient. The only thing the Governments appeared to have thought is to keep away from each other even after relaxation. This is quite theoretical. In reality, we Indians are not great at maintaining space. When we looked at data of states that have relaxed, there appears to be no significant increase in testing. Lockdown testing protocols have continued even after relaxations while one expects it should have gone up significantly. At a 3rd level, the Governments appear to have done lot of work on expanding healthcare infrastructure but there is little they they have done to fix the issue of healthcare workers. It is unclear what is the capacity of our healthcare workers given the widespread complaints by doctors from various States. If we need volunteers, are we training them?
States are Fudging Numbers
One of the reasons we are having a lot of issues is because States have started to see this as competition and are doing all sorts of things to look good in the short term.
Many of the State Governments have slowed down Testing to fudge their numbers. What we have seen in the past is that the moment testing slows down, it invariably leads to higher deaths in the future. One way States are trying to manage the fatality numbers is by misclassifying the deaths as most deaths are anyway due to co-morbidities. The problem with these approaches is fatality rates will shoot up and become unmanageable.
Not the time to be a hero
It is not just the lockdown exit or the State Governments that are a problem. Many States have opened up simply because the economic situation is bad. However, numerous citizens including educated ones are misinterpreting this to think everything is in control. Some people also feel that staying at home and not coming out is cowardly behaviour. All of this leads to people abandoning caution and assuming normal life is back again. As the numbers suggest, we are worse off than March 25th, except that things did not get worse as quickly because of the lockdown.
In sum, We have a cocktail of Inefficient exit, States fudging numbers and Citizens becoming restless, all together a cocktail for a disaster. India is not collapsing into Corona disaster but heading towards it in Slow Motion.