Will History repeat?
Though sad, history of 1918 influenza may likely to repeat in India. Fortunately, not the same level of death toll, but the number of people infected with COVID, surely may reach the same level of century ago. The COVID is already had major impact on our society, economy, social fabric and now this second wave may erode our collective confidence as nation. Death rates are certainly low for now, but infections are really on same trajectory of 1918 influenza. We must remember, then most of the death toll was during second wave in 1919. More than 6% of then our population of all ages died, highest in the world. Let us do everything to avoid such catastrophe this time. A year ago in 2020, when we closed country, the daily death toll was just below 50, now it is close to 1600, the daily infections then were well below 3000, now it is above 200,000. Total infections on20th 2020 less than 15,000 cases and total deaths were less than 500. Now a year later, on 18th April 2021, the active cases in the country are close to 20 lakhs and already more than 178,000 people died. No one has any idea that where we end up in next six months. Situation is grave and this requires urgent action.
Will India become top COVID infected country?
At the current rate of increase of infections, India may surpass USA, to become top on the COVID infections list. As on 18th April 2021, the daily infections are at 230,000 and daily deaths 1625, both are all time high. Our respected doctors are saying, this rate of infections and death are going to go higher and higher before started stabilising and started to decline. The worst is not over yet. Our vaccination is not reached that level which can prevent, even if the vaccine is perfectly working, spread of infections so rapidly. We have 130 crores of people, reaching even 30-40% requires lot more time even if we rapidly accelerate the vaccination. So right now something has to be done, which is not lockdown. Government need to come out pretty fast, with some measure, which will slow down this rapid spread.
We can predict, we can forecast, we can point out fingers, we can say what should have been done or avoided etc. That is past and those discussions are not going to be any use now. We need to focus on only one thing, how to contain this in the coming weeks and months. For last one year, most of the predictions, most of assurances and most expert advises have gone wrong. It is not possible to correct the past. We can only aim to do better in coming days, weeks, months to reduce the infections. That will save lives. The rate of infections are mostly likely reach a 10 lakhs a day soon, even if one percent of them, which is the case earlier, the number of people need critical care is going to put enormous strain on our already stressed medial system- private and public. There will be panic, confusion and commotion. Our nation collectively need to prepare to deal with that situation. Instead of blaming each other, pointing figures about who is responsible for what, we all need to work together and put simple but effective measures. That need to happen now. It is not the time for state Governments blaming Centre, in turn Centre Government trashing states. Similarly we all, as people, have to do our responsibility, instead of contributing to panic and confusion, we all need to do whatever we can. Those who can influence others may provide solace, comfort and help instead of disseminating panic information on WA and other forums. Those who can write in the papers write about mechanism to cope up with situation at local level. Media, instead of negative of everything and anything, at least for ten days, provide constructive information. Few simple things are suggested below for consideration for the Governments, experts , media and people at large
What can be done?
Five things might help to contain the Virus and save lives.
- Stay at home for at least tendays: Nationwide lockdown of 2020 type is not feasible -politically, socially, economically. The scares of the last year mass migration is still fresh in peoples memory. Lockdown may not even work, it might create a panic all over again. So Governments might do a structured, informed and co-ordinated stay at home policy for ten days, starting from one Friday evening to Monday morning. Stay where you are, this is not lockdown, assuring people this will not be extended. This might be doable, provided, Government prepares people, states, political parties and civil society. This may have to be done from next Friday (23rd April to 2nd May). This certainly might significantly reduce rate of spreading. If Government is reluctant, at least civil society organisations should appeal to people to stay at home. This is like civil society organising collectively asking people to stay at home. This can be done using various means.
- Rapid vaccination: Simultaneously, asking Governments to start vaccination at mohalls, wherever possible, an aggressive campaign involving local leaders, local Governments, citizens bodies and civil society organisations, religious organisations. This will avoid gatherings at vaccination centres. Targets need to be set by GoI for State Governments and extend required doses and support. Progress should be monitored and informed to the public on daily basis.
- Provide practical information: To avoid, panic, provide practical information to people. The Government, media and civil society organisations need to work together to provide simple and understandable information and guidance for people to follow in the event of feeling sick. Specifically what they need to do at home and when and where to reach for help informing the details of call centres, designated health clinics- both public and private. If a person gets symptoms or doubt about her/his health condition, instead of running around, possibly spreading, what they should do at home. Widely disseminating what they can do by staying at home, unless it is emergency. It appears, most of the infections, fortunately, this time are not fatal, so let people know how to take care of themselves. Since it is spreading clusters, or entire household, they may not require withing the house isolating, but collectively dealing with it. This might reduce pain and also lead to better self-care. A toll kit for people to manage themselves and contacts to reach when required
- Prioritise emergency care: Providing emergency care effectively at Government and private hospitals in a co-ordinated way. Now it appears, whoever have money or connections getting into hospital, blocking beds for more needy. There should be some oversight, without a controlling mechanism, by the doctors to prioritise the patients to save the lives and use the precious resources to those who need regardless of their social status and economic position. This may sound very idealistic or very impractical, but at least we should have mechanism to try. These are extraordinary times and we need some idealistic methods to save lives. In general, Indians are good at compassion and sharing, provided they know how and for it is being done.
- Stop politicising. Stop all political activities, all elections, all the tours of politicians of all parties, no more statements, no more pointing figures. Enough for now, let everything be done, in civilised, normal, without any publicity. Even if they are critical of each other, let no media print it. At least ten day moratorium of not promoting and propagating party views or critical of what is going on instead comforting information to avoid panic and confusion. This ten days of stay at home can be used by the politicians to reflect and let the designated professionals deal with the situation without political interference and de-moralisations. Our doctors are capable, our health workers are skilled, our vaccination centres are good and let them do their job, without political interferences, without de-moralising them. At least ten days let us give rest to our mouth, , if we can help fine, if not at least silence. Let the established professional system, our designated officials and institutions do their job. Provide them what they need. No more politicisation, no more
These suggestions are new they are simple and known. Country need to implement these measures better and co-ordinated way. That is the challenge India always faces. We know what to do, we know what not to do, but we just don’t have mechanisms and will power to do. This requires leadership which has to come from Government of India. From PM directly, in reconciliatory tone and with consultative process. A national reconciliation need to happen for concerted action. A national COVID response body involving all walks of life and political parties might help. The opposition and party in power should stop pointing out fingers and blaming each other for the lapses. Every major party in India is ruling party in one state or other, the ruling party in centre too an opposition party in many states. It is not that any political party done any better or worse than others. So there is no point in blame games and bickering in the crisis. So, we are all in it together and we need to think and act together. There will be plenty of time for criticising and politicking once nation is out of this major crisis. This is once in century health crisis. Let us remained ourselves that then the second wave which surfaced after every one thought it has gone, killed millions and caused destruction. Similarly now this second wave is causing havoc with our population and health systems. In late 2020, everyone thought COVID is over, people started asking where is COVID, hospitals started closing COVID wards, people stopped masks. It was also case in 1918, but when it came back 1919, millions died. It came back rapidly. Of course we are in different situation and surely we are in much better position, now we have medicines, vaccine, we have health system. Most importantly we have our Government, then it was colonial Government. But still there is danger history might repeat, let us not complacent about things. Let us not reduce our democratic system as weakness to deal with pandemic. Time is not in favour, Governments need to act and need to act now. If not history will repeat itself.