TThe idea of a complete lockout was to flatten the curve, prevent people from interacting with each other, maintain social distance, and the number of Covid-19 cases will start to drop.
There are many places in the world that have successfully used the lock for this purpose. These included Denmark, Slovakia, Greece, Austria and Australia. Some countries have used their locks so well that they have managed to free themselves completely from Covid, like New Zealand. A few managed to defeat Covid even without locking, such as Iceland.
European countries hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic in March were able to use the lock to flatten the curve. These include the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain. Even China, the home country of Covid-19, has flattened the curve with strict locking. He has now imposed another confinement.
Vishwa Guru no more
This is the point where we will be told that all of these countries are rich and have a low population density. It’s funny how fast we go from pretending to be a superpower (or vishwa guru as the BJP prefers) to resign ourselves to our fate as a poor Third World country which still has a long way to go before it can catch up with world averages for human development.
The whole talk of being the third largest economy, the fastest growing economy in the world, a $ 5 billion billion economy just goes out the window when she pointed out that India has not does what countries from South Korea to Iceland have managed to do.
However, we suddenly become comparable to wealthy countries when we do better. We select the data we like. So Narendra Modi praise Yogi Adityanath observing that Uttar Pradesh has recorded only 600 Covid deaths to date while four European countries with a comparable population have recorded 1.3 lakh of Covid deaths.
Prime Minister should try to compare Covid’s number of Vietnam and Uttar Pradesh, or Kerala and its home state, Gujarat. No matter how you cut it, this graphic just goes up, up and up.
Also read: Weak test and tracing: how Delhi turned into an Indias in New York after Covid struck
The truth is that locking Narendra Modis was a failure even by its own publicly stated purpose.
Announcing a national lockdown in March, Prime Minister Modi had declared that India would defeat Covid by 21 days, just three more days than it took to earn the Mahabharata war.
If we had a media with a backbone and a conscience, if we had a functioning Parliament or an effective opposition, the Modi government would have been obliged to explain why its Covid Mahabharata is a battle lost a hundred days later.
PM Modi said we would have lost many more lives without the lockout. It is true. But it’s not good enough. We have lost over 17,000 lives and if we continue at this rate we could easily lose almost a lakh of lives by the end of this year.
Another reason that is touted is that the idea of depression was just to save time so that our hospitals are not overwhelmed with more patients than beds. With a few exceptions here and there, we have also failed on this front. However, it moves the post as usual. It’s a bit like this eternal mystery of the real purpose of demonetization.
It is important and useful to loop and ask, why did our lock not flatten the curve? Even if we know the answers, they are repetitive because the war against Covid is far from over. It may have just started. And it’s not just the death rate or the recovery rate. Unless we can control Covid, our factories, offices, and markets will not be able to function properly. And unless they do, the economic recovery will remain a pipe dream.
Also read: The discipline of public lockdown is eroding quickly, India risks becoming lax in the fight against Covid
Why the lock failed
If we care about the money in our pockets and the tax revenue needed to buy more fighter jets, we have to ask ourselves: why hasn’t India’s strict foreclosure flattened the curve?
1. We did not start early enough. The places that were able to defeat Covid have one thing in common: they started early. This is as true for Vietnam and Thailand as it is for Bhutan and Kerala.
Kerala’s Minister of Health, KK Shailaja, started as early as January 20! The state was ready with the test, trace, isolation and support protocol before most of Europe. In contrast, Narendra Modi and the governments of states other than Kerala only took Covid seriously when they heard frightening stories about Italy and Spain. With the exception of the thermal control of Chinese visitors, we did nothing serious in February.
2. We didn’t warn people. Four hours notice before the national lock did not give people time to prepare for it. This meant that the biggest lock in the world was a shock to people who did not have time to adapt to a new lifestyle, make arrangements and stock up on essentials. Worried and uncertain, many people have tried to lead their lives normally, disobeying the lock rules.
Today, we are in an unlocking situation with a much greater spread of the coronavirus. Perhaps, what a country of our size and our diversity needed was first of all a progressive, gradual and progressive locking.
3. We used the police rather than persuasion. To force foreclosure on poor, unhappy citizens, the police were coerced. This has led to numerous incidents of people responding to the police. What we needed instead was a lock motivated more by persuasion and reasoning. This would have ensured greater and voluntary participation in the foreclosure.
4. We could not impose foreclosure on a large part of the population. People living in overcrowded ramps and slums, people living in remote villages, people allowed to travel for essential services, people allowed to travel for seasonal harvesting, all this has resulted in many people do not follow the interlock and mix with each other.
On paper, it was one of the most severe blockages in the world, in practice, it was one of the most loose. Just one example: a village in Andhra Pradesh, which had celebrated weddings and cricket matches during the closure, is now paying a high price. The type of strict foreclosure that most of the middle and wealthy classes have experienced has not been experienced by everyone.
The worst example, of course, is that of migrant workers, whom we should have allowed to go home first. Trying to prevent them from going home at first only spread Covid among them, and now they’re diffusion in their home states.
5. We have deliberately subtested. It was perhaps the biggest mistake we made. From the very first day, India has subtested Covid, perhaps just to keep the numbers artificially low. Central and state governments were complicit. They feared a political backlash, they feared people would say that the government did not control Covid. Ironically, don’t test Covid spreads even more, because you don’t know who to isolate.
State after State, has realized the seriousness of this error. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are still making the same mistake, but they will find out the hard way, as other states have done.
With large-scale tests, we could have isolated more people, whether at home or in quarantine centers. But we were told that there were not enough tests. We were told that it was not possible to test everyone. With such a lack of doubt, we challenged global scientific wisdom. The way Covid spreads, we might end up having to test everyone. And the saddest joke is that we will still not admit community transmission because political expediency decides what is right and what is wrong in Modis India.
6. We have just given up on contact tracing. Once someone is identified as HIV positive, you ask them to name all of the places they have visited in the past few days and all of the people they have met recently. This is called contact tracking, and extensive testing allows you to create a detailed map of it. This must be explained as a new concept because India has forgotten everything.
Kerala did such a good job that they had Corona detectives. India’s inability to trace contacts on a large scale was partly a reflection of the state’s low capacity and partly a deliberate choice to show low Covid figures. These bad choices only made the problem worse, like letting a sore fester.
The government’s magic wand for finding contracts is a smartphone application in a country where almost 75% of the population has no smartphone.
Also read: I’m a public health advisor who got Covid. Here is my advice to the governments of Delhi and Modi
The power of propaganda
Even now, India is not being honest about its inability to contain Covid. No one cares: we are used to the idea that our lives are sacrificable. As long as we can select the data to show that everything is fine and that Modi can win the next election.
Just as the failed demonetization and the pain of the GST did not hurt the BJP from an electoral standpoint, neither will the failure to contain Covid hurt Modi. The opposition, especially Rahul Gandhi, has been good enough to raise these points, but their voices will simply not reach the people. The opposition has neither party workers, millions of WhatsApp groups, nor media that question the government.
With such an absence of democratic checks and balances, India’s failed lock is sold by Narendra Modi as a success. And by the time Covid ends, many Indians will indeed remember a failure as a success. Such is the power of propaganda.
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