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Corona – The mystery of the India phenomenon

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

In this blog I intend to focus on 2 commonly asked questions w.r.t the Corona virus situation in India today

  1. What do the rapidly and steadily falling numbers – both daily new cases, daily deaths and active cases indicate and

  2. How do we explain the recent spurt in cases in pockets of big cities and states like Kerala

The Falling cases

India has witnessed steeply and steadily falling cases over the last several months. We have witnessed this phenomenon with regard to the number of daily new cases, active cases as well as daily deaths. The graphs below shows this unambiguous trend.

So, the downward trend is unmistakable and undisputable. All theories like numbers are being fudged, testing has gone down etc. hold no water.

Hospital admissions have nosedived and allocated beds are mostly vacant. Talk to any doctor involved with Covid19 and he/she will tell you this fact.

So, what happened? How did the situation turn around so rapidly and drastically? Has India really done som,e magical, miraculous super-efficient job that has resulted in this scenario? Supporters of the current Govt and their propaganda machinery want us to believe that. But what’s the reality?

How India handled Covid19?

To understand this, we need to take a closer look at the way India handled Covid19 ever since it made its presence felt in our country

The initial denial mode.

We had the first cases by early Feb, which were confined to travelers from Abroad. Broadly we continued with life as usual with Namaste Trump event and what not.

When a new virus with a fairly high infection rate makes its appearance, it’s bound to spread and spread fast.

That’s what was happening, but given the size of our population and relatively mild nature of the disease in 90% of the cases, the spread largely went unnoticed.

Then comes the massive overreaction.

But the heat was building up internationally, with western countries one by one declaring harsh lockdowns and the global propaganda machinery on an overdrive. The pressure was building up on the Government to act.

Spurred by a blatantly exaggerated Imperial college Neil Ferguson projection of death rate, widespread fearmongering in both mainstream media as well as social media, and huge overreaction in most western countries, our Government went into an overdrive, declaring one of the harshest lockdowns, without any planning or preparations and implemented mercilessly using police power.

The tragedy that unfolded.

That prolonged lockdown was an unparalleled disaster creating absolute havoc in the society and economy, especially in the unorganized sector; driving millions of daily wagers, farmers, small traders, self-employed and small businesses into unimaginable hardship, bankruptcy and starvation; resulting in the unprecedented tragedy of millions of migrants walking thousands of kms homewards, braving the summer heat and police lathis without money, food or even water. It destroyed the informal sector already heavily weakened by demonetization and GST; created massive unemployment; mass starvation; and drove millions of people into extreme poverty.

Constant fearmongering and sensationalized selective horror coverage by social media and even mainstream media, drove people at large into a state of extreme anxiety and fear. People with any symptoms like fever, cough, cold were socially shunned, thrown out of their homes; the sick were left to die alone in most cruel, inhuman conditions; even the dead were not spared, it was difficult to even cremate / bury the dead; villagers dug up roads to prevent anyone from outside coming in.

It was an extremely sad saga that unfolded, totally illogical and inhuman. Leave alone a disease where 90% of the cases are either asymptomatic or mild and real case mortality rate is 0.2% to 0.3%, even in the case of much deadlier viral/bacterial outbreaks like the Spanish flu, dengue etc. our country had never seen such overreaction.

But with TRP seeking TV channels continuously and sensationalizing and repeatedly showing selective, exaggerated footage of worst case scenarios; doctored and photoshopped horror videos floating around on WhatsApp; Government, official sources and medical fraternity also overreacting massively – what else could you expect from common people?

All in all, it was a tragedy of unparalleled proportions totally unnecessary and completely avoidable.

Finally, the hands-off approach.

While the lockdown and resultant frenzy did create tremendous hardship, to people at large it did not have any positive impact of the spread of the infection. Statistics tell us that all through the lockdown, despite all the harsh measures the infections kept going up steeply and steadily.

Lockdown started on 24/3 for a period of 21 days, which was then extended to May 3, then to May 17 and finally to May 31. The total positive cases which were at around 500 on March 24th had risen to 200,000 by May 31st:

The gradual and progressive easing of the lockdown restriction started from June onwards and went on all through the year, despite the trend of rising cases. The Government after having received massive backlash against the utter mishandling of the lockdown and its repercussions, effectively withdrew from the scene gradually; daily briefings were stopped, the focus was shifted from total cases, daily new cases and deaths to more a positive spin; dirty work, if any, was left to the states.

For all practical purposes life was allowed to go back to near normal, though in stages, despite continuously rising cases.

But all through this lockdown and unlock phases the Corona cases, – active cases, daily new cases and daily deaths kept going up rapidly and steadily, hitting the peak around mid-September with daily new cases at a peak of 97,859 on Sept 16th; active cases at 1,018,454 on Sept 18th and daily deaths at 1,283 on September 15th.

Thereafter all three parameters have witnessed a steady decline.

What really happened?

While the middle-upper class were hunkering down in their gated communities, apartments and villas – constantly washing hands, gobbling up hand sanitizers, wearing masks and maintaining social distance – all of this was a luxury which 90% of our population simply couldn’t afford.

When you live in a slum or a crowded neighborhood, with a population density of over 200,000/km2 (like in the case of Dharavi) what do you expect?

Neither was the scene any different in case of millions of migrant labour walking home in large groups, huddled together in makeshift shelters.

So, the virus was running wild, spreading rapidly in 90% of the population, especially in the slums and low income neighbourhoods. Returning migrants ensured the same phenomenon in many villages in North India

Also, in the post lockdown phase – after the initial fear and paranoia driven by non-stop sensational TV coverage and exaggerated WhatsApp forwards, people on the streets – in the slims and low income neighbourhoods – soon started realizing the true nature of this disease, largely benign and harmless.

This realization, coupled with their sheer survival instinct driven by hunger and desperation meant that they rapidly threw all the so-called precautions to the wind and started going back to life as usual.

Crowded streets, buses and trains, buzzing markets, long ques in front of liquor shops were everywhere to be seen. This was soon followed by festivals and mega election rallies; and street protests followed soon. Life was buzzing again on the streets.

A new virus with a RO factor of close to 2 was bound to spread fast in such a scenario. And spread it did, running its course rapidly.

All sero surveys which look at presence of Covid19 anti bodies, indicating a prior infection. were showing the actual infections to be anywhere from 100 to 200 times the official number of positive cases.

Not at all surprising. So, by September we can safely assume that many areas with high population density would have started hitting herd immunity with infections reaching 50% or higher of the population in them.

Virus has run its course. And with a largely benign virus, where 90 to 95% of the infections are either asymptomatic or very mild (like slight fever, cough or cold, which we normally don’t even bother about) this spread largely went unnoticed.

That’s why the numbers started dropping steadily post mid-September and have still maintained that trend overall.

Why then the spike in pockets now?

Ofcourse this scenario was and still is, in stark contrast to the middle-upper middle class neighbourhoods, gated communities, housing societies and so on, where people were and are still hiding away in their cozy homes, watching Netflix/amazon prime; working from home; constantly washing hands, religiously wearing masks even inside their air-conditioned cars, refusing to hug or shake hands even with near and dear ones.

The spread of the virus was temporarily largely contained in these pockets, thanks to these unnatural measures. This also includes states like Kerala with effective early success in containment with strict enforcement of all precautionary measures.

While on one hand these pockets had remained largely virus free, they were bound to get infected the minute they started venturing out. And any such infection in these pockets was bound to spread rapidly as there is no herd immunity in them, as most people in these pockets were not exposed to the virus earlier.

Add to this greatly weakened immunity due to corona induced unhealthy eating, lack of sunlight and fresh air, lack of exposure to all and any kind of bacteria and viruses due to increased use of hand sanitizes, face masks and social distancing, family tensions due to living in small confined spaces for long periods – these sections were and are highly susceptible to any kind of infections, corona or otherwise.

And that what has been happening recently specifically in these pockets.

The only realistic solution is for the virus to run its course in these pockets too creating herd immunity, the real and long-term safeguard against the virus.

Instead, if we again rush inside and opt for lockdowns and all kinds of restrictions – self imposed or Govt imposed – we are only likely to prolong the pain and suffering rather than solving any real problem.

The sooner we realize this truth the better it is for all concerned – the Govt and the authorities, overworked health workers and the population at large, except ofcousre for the Big Pharma and Health care lobby whose greed has no limits and which continue to make a killing from this human tragedy, laughing their way to the bank.

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