By Dr Nitin Pandey
30th January 2020 was the day India recorded its first case, a student from Thrissur, Kerala studying in Wuhan University tested positive. The first 100 cases were recorded on 1 March. Lockdown 1 started after the voluntary shutdown on 22 March when India had 396 cases and a daily rise between 50-100 cases nationwide and Unlock 1 started on 31 May with 1,82,143 cases and a rise of 8389 nationwide. Today, with Unlock 2 we have 12,38,635 cases with a rise of 45,720 cases. So, did we go wrong?
While it is easy to point fingers retrospectively, we must remember in March, most of us, in fact a vast majority of people across the world, had a very faint idea of COVID-19, predicting how it would run its course was, and still is, impossible. We locked down with a National count of 396 cases and Unlocked with a count of 1.82 lakh cases. Was that wrong? What many of us don’t realise is that lockdowns are never implemented just because cases are rising and similarly unlocks are not there because the disease is under control. Lockdowns are to slow the spread of the virus, giving time to the administration to set up the infrastructure to handle a surge, and when the infrastructure is up and running, we need to unlock, so that people can get on with their lives and rev up the economy. Unfortunately, till today, many people and even State Governments use lockdowns, for what they feel, is “blocking the spread of the virus”, it does not block the spread, merely delays it. Lockdowns come at a great economic price and leave many middle and lower economic class families under financial strain and after 2 months of total lockdown have outlived their purpose in India. After these 2 months, all state governments should have built up adequate infrastructure to tackle a surge of cases. Unfortunately, because this had no parallels, many could not fathom the enormity of the surge, leading State Governments to panicky counterproductive reactions. True, some things didn’t go well, like the migrant crises, but much as we can split hairs now, transporting 8 Crore migrant workers before the National lockdown, when our country had just 396 cases, is pure fantasy. No one would have believed the government at that stage.
Mystery has always been the darling of media and a mysterious illness swirling around the world excited the electronic and print media like nothing else. Stories focusing on horror, number of cases and human tragedy compounded by lockdown stress, played havoc with the minds of many people. Screaming headlines, highlighting negative aspects, forced local politicians to take unscientific and extreme steps, further compounding stress many people feel deep inside.
A pandemic will run its course, no matter what you do. You can only delay the surge, perhaps lessen the peak, but you cannot prevent the surge. But if you look carefully at the figures, you will get a very different prospective from the one portrayed in the media.
Today, in India we have 12,38,635 cases. We may be the country with the 3rd highest number of cases, but what we fail to realise that our country’s population is three times that of US and we still have a third of their cases. What most of us also don’t realise is that out of the 12 lakh cases, we have almost 8 lakh have already been cured and 4 lakh cases are there presently across India (our population is 1.6 billion). Of the 4 lakh or so cases, 80% are asymptomatic, meaning they have no problems and have just tested positive, so across India there are only 80,000 patients who are ill with COVID-19. Is that a big deal? And for the first time today, while the number of active cases increased by 15,034, the number of cured patients increased by 29,557, which is a very good trend. Also, of the 4 lakh or so active cases, 2.5 lakh are only in four states, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Delhi, rest of the country has barely 1.5 lakh cases, though, one must remember each region of India will see a surge, and a surge at a different time so there is no need to worry about that as well.
In Uttarakhand, things have been very quiet, with a vast majority of cases being people who have migrated into Uttarakhand from other states, and their primary contacts. Of course, the virus will run its course in Uttarakhand, also, but till date the local spread has been minimal, which is why no amount of lockdown will slow down the rise in cases till people keep coming into our State. Preventing people from returning to their home towns is of course not an option, so one should not overreact to this increase in case numbers by imposing lockdowns or weekend lockdowns. Today’s increase in Dehradun of 68 cases should be viewed in that context. Eighteen cases of these are first contacts of people who have migrated back, while 4 are health care workers and 2 CRPF personnel.
(Dr Nitin Pandey is a Dehradun based ex Indian Air Force doctor, a Pediatrician and an active Social worker.)