Last night, amid the national lockdown, many people followed Prime Minister Modi’s video message, broadcasted on April 03 at 9 am for all, ‘to challenge the darkness of Coronavirus together – with a Diya, candle, torch or flashlight, at 9 pm for 9 minutes, from their respective balconies.’ That was the 12th day of 21-day lockdown, when the deadly microbe – Covid19 infected, tested and detected cases climbed to 3,577 in the country, with the death toll rising to 83. This is against 564 - the total number of confirmed cases in India when the lockdown commenced on March 24, 2020.
With all this, a mind-boggling narrative is developing at an accelerating pace. It’s not just about the rogue microbe – rampaging the world hunting for its prey. But also pans over multiple dimensions of its fallout, impacting virtually everything, for all. People of all sections of the society are participating, deliberating or debating on this issue, as the invisible camera of destiny rolls on. Unprecedented!
That’s the real world where, despite fear of an unknown future, most people prefer freedom of expression while playing a constructive role in containing the menace, collectively. We are witnessing a similar scenario – the world over. But, more in the democratic nations. Relatively enlightened citizens will always want to participate in this emerging chronicle, shaping the overall narrative and help sharpening the nations Covid19 policy further – instead of being passive onlookers.
Meanwhile, the objective of maintaining physical distancing during 21-day national lockdown period and beyond must be achieved, regardless of any public discord on its mechanics. This has to happen, primarily because of the TINA factor. Likewise, it’s also a prerequisite that the lockdown is handled efficiently, with meticulous advance planning, deft and dignified handling of any situation, by all and for all. That said, the good news is, newer scientific, evidence-based data are revealing more actionable pathways, in this multifaceted narrative.
A multifaceted narrative raises multiple questions:
As I wrote above, Covid19 narrative is multifaceted and not just one dimensional. It’s true beyond doubt: ‘If there is life, there is the world.’ But, that has to be a life with dignity, a life that help protect families and facilitates contributing to the nation, in different ways – enabling a scope of fulfillment of all.
In this article, I shall, explore some important facets of the evolving narrative on the Covid19 outbreak to drive home this point. In that process some very valid questions, as raised by many, also deserve to be addressed. Some of these include:
- Covid19 is a war like situation where no questions are asked about the strategic details of a warfare, why the same is not being followed today? In a war some collateral damages are inevitable, why so much of noises now?
- Why has Covid19 created a general panic with stigma attached to it?
- Panic is avoidable, but is the threat real. If so, why?
- Why people violating national lockdown by migrating from the job location to respective hometowns – increasing the risk of the disease spread, must be brought to their senses mostly through the harsh measures?
- In the absence of any vaccine or an effective curative drug, why all decisions of policymakers must be blindly accepted by all, during national lockdown and maybe beyond, as if there is ‘not to reason why, but to do or die?’
Let me now explore each of these questions.
A war like situation?
No doubt Covid19 is a war like situation, but with some striking dissimilarities between a conventional war and this war. A conventional war is fought by a well-trained and well-armed defense forces with already developed a gamut, against a known and visible enemy nation.
Whereas, the war against Covid19 is against an invisible and unknown microbe’s sudden attack, being fought in India by a limited army of health care professionals and workers. They fight this war, mostly without adequate or no battle gear, like Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), testing kits and ventilators, supported by a fragile health care infrastructure.
Moreover, in the conventional warfare, the type of advance information and intelligence that the Governments usually possess against the enemy nations, can’t be matched by any private domain experts.
Whereas, Covid 19 still being a lesser known entity to medical scientists, as on date, the remedial measures are still evolving. Only scientific-evidence-based data can create actionable pathways for combat, spearheaded by the W.H.O. Thus, most people expect the nation to comply with, at least, the current W.H.O guidelines for health-safety of the population.
Further, in the cyberspace, several latest and highly credible research data are available for all. These are being well-covered by the global media as a part of the narrative. Thus, unlike conventional warfare, external experts may know as much, if not even more than the Government on Covid19.
Some avoidable show-stoppers:
There are several such avoidable show-stoppers. For example, when one reads news like, ‘Delhi Government Hospital Shut As Doctor Tests Positive For Coronavirus,’ or something like, ‘Indian doctors fight Coronavirus with raincoats, helmets amid lack of equipment,’ alongside a jaw-dropping one, ‘India Sends COVID-19 Protective Gear To Serbia Amid Huge Shortage At Home,’ chaos in the narrative takes place.
In the tough fight against Covid19 menace, these much avoidable fallout may be construed as show-stoppers, if not counterproductive. Many may advocate to pass a gag order against revelation of such difficult to understand developments, and keep those beyond any public discussion. Instead, why not order a transparent enquiry by independent experts to find facts – holding concerned people accountable?
Why has the disease created so much of panic with stigma attached to it?
This is intriguing because, according to the W.H.O – China Joint Mission report on COVID-19, around 80 percent of the 55924 patients with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 in China, had mild-to-moderate disease. This includes both non- pneumonia and pneumonia cases. While 13·8 percent developed severe disease, and 6·1 percent developed to a critical stage requiring intensive care.
Moreover, The Lancet paper of March 30, 2020 also highlighted, in all laboratory confirmed and clinically diagnosed cases from mainland China estimated case fatality ratio was of 3·67 percent. However, after demographic adjustment and under-ascertainment, the best estimate of the case fatality ratio in China was found to be of 1·38 percent, with substantially higher ratios in older age groups – 0·32 percent in those aged below 60 years versus 6·4 percent in those aged 60 years or more, up to 13·4 percent in those aged 80 years or older. Estimates of the case fatality ratio from international cases stratified by age were consistent with those from China, the paper underscored.
Even the Health Minister of India has emphasized, ‘around 80-85 percent of cases are likely to be mild.’ He also acknowledged: “My biggest challenge is to ensure that affected people are treated with compassion, and not stigmatized. This is also applicable for the health care workforce, which is working hard to counter this epidemic. It is through concerted, community-owned efforts, supported by the policies put in place by the government that we can contain this disease.” This subject, surely, needs to be debated by all, and effectively resolved.
Panic is avoidable, but does a real threat exist with Covid19?
As The Lancet paper of March 30, 2020 cautions by saying - although the case fatality ratio for COVID-19 is lower than some of the crude estimates made so far, with its rapid geographical spread observed to date, ‘COVID-19 represents a major global health threat in the coming weeks and months. Our estimate of the proportion of infected individuals requiring hospitalization, when combined with likely infection attack rates (around 50–80 percent), show that even the most advanced healthcare systems are likely to be overwhelmed. These estimates are therefore crucial to enable countries around the world to best prepare as the global pandemic continues to unfold.’ This facet of Covid19 also requires to be a part of the evolving narrative to mitigate the threat, collectively, with a robust and well thought out Plan A, Plan B, Plan C….
Violation of lockdown increases the risk manifold, but…
There isn’t a shade of doubt even on this count, in any responsible citizen. Besides individual violation, recently a huge exodus of migrant laborer’s ignoring the lockdown raised the level of risk for others. This exodus should have been stopped at the very start, by better planning and with empathy and dignity by the law enforcing authorities, as many believe. Curiously, even the current Chief Justice of India (CJI) commented, on March 30, 2020: “The fear and the panic over the Coronavirus pandemic is bigger that the virus itself,” during a hearing on the exodus of migrant laborers from workplace to their respective hometowns, due to Covid19 lockdown.
To mitigate the risk, the CJI advised the Government to ensure calming down ‘the fear of migrants about their future, after being abruptly left without jobs or homes because of the 21-day lockdown to prevent the spread of Coronavirus.’ The Court felt, ‘the panic will destroy more lives than the virus.’ Thus, the Government should “ensure trained counsellors and community leaders of all faiths visit relief camps and prevent panic.”
The CJI also directed the Government to take care of food, shelter, nourishment and medical aid of the migrants who have been stopped. This appears to be the desirable pathway of preventing the migrant exodus, causing greater risk to people, requiring better planning, deft situation management with empathy and dignity, by the law enforcing authorities. However, individual violations, if any, can be addressed by intimately involving the civil society, against any possibility of the disease spread.
Whatever decision the policy makers take, must be blindly accepted by all:
In this area, all must first follow what the Government expects us to do. Maintaining strict compliance with such requirements. But, some people do ask, is it in total conformance with the steps W.H.O recommends following? At the March 30, 2020 issue of the Financial Times reported, the W.H.O’s health emergency program has outlined four factors that might contribute to the differing mortality rates in Covid19 outbreak:
- Who becomes infected?
- What stage the epidemic has reached in a country?
- How much testing a country is doing?
- How well different health care systems are coping?
Many members of the civil society are also keen to know these facts, and may want to seek clarification, if a gap exists anywhere. After all, Covid19 outbreak has brought to the fore, an unprecedented future uncertainty of unknown duration, involving not just life, but a sustainable livelihood and a dignified living in the future, for a very large global population, including India.
There seems to be a dose of chaos in an otherwise reasonably controlled scenario. One option of looking at it as a pure law and order issue, which needs to be brought to order only with a heavy hand. The second option is to accept it as a golden opportunity to take all on board, by clearly explaining what people want to know – with reasons, patience, persuasion, empathy and compassion, as is happening in many countries. Of course, without compromising on the urgency of the situation. This is a challenging task, but a sustainable one. Overcoming it successfully, will possibly be the acid test of true leadership, at all levels. However, the slowly unfolding narrative on the ground, doesn’t appear to be quite in sync with the second option.
In the largest democracy of the world, people want to get involved in a meaningful discussion on Covid19 crisis, collectively – based on evidence-based scientific data. Then, it’s up to the policy makers to decide what is right for the country and in which way to go. In tandem, fast evolving, multifaceted Coronavirus narrative, I reckon, will keep raising multiple questions.
As the disease spreads, the pathways of combating it decisively, is being charted by different experts, led by the World Health Organization (WHO). This is being widely covered by the mainstream global media, even in the din of a cacophony. Nonetheless, it is generally believed that a true relief will come, only after a vaccine is developed and made available and accessible to all sections of the world. Till such time a ‘hide and seek’ game, as it were, is expected to continue.
By: Tapan J. Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.