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A letter to Prime Minister Modi: 21-day lockdown is not enough

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Mr Prime Minister,

The Indian state would be making a fatal mistake if it chooses to sit on its haunches just because a 21-day lockdown is in force from Wednesday.

Your  second address to the nation on Tuesday was an incessant appeal to stay at home. You described this measure as “one flicker of light in this enveloping darkness”. You left no one in doubt that India won’t be able to overcome this deadly killer virus on paramedical staff, ICU (intensive care unit) beds and ventilators alone.

Unofficial figures suggest India has probably 150,000 ICU beds and 75,000 ventilators. Probably a few lakh paramedical staff. It has ramped up random testing since last week. But India needs a proactive strategy to catch the “virus” in hibernation within four walls of homes.

In simpler terms, go for door-to-door testings across India.

You quoted South Korea more than once in your address to emphasis how the Asian nation appears to have come to grips with Corona Virus. You identified “social distancing” as the prime reason for such a spectacular success. But South Korea hasn’t resorted to a lockdown. Of course, such a comparison is unfair given the unequal medical muscle of the two countries.

South Korea has also relied on doing tests on its citizens at every high-spot of people’s presence: medical stores, grocery shops, petrol pumps and of course homes. It so far has conducted over 400,000 tests on its 51-million citizens. United States, in contrast, has done random tests on only 50,000 of its 300-mllion plus citizens.  India, a nation of 1.3 billion people, only has a sample of around 5,000 random tests thus far.

India, before it banned international flights from landing this Sunday, had largely restricted its testing to arriving passengers. It then has lately woken up to random testing. But still random tests are within 1,000 a day. South Korea in contrast is testing close to 15,000 citizens everyday.

Lately, stirrings are being felt across the country. Jaipur is isolating every 3-km radius area where a positive test has emerged. It’s being followed with home-to-home tests. The paramedical staff is being supported by volunteers and nursing students. Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is now conducting door-to-door visits in Mumbai. But these visits primarily are to check with housing societies if there is anyone who suspects himself/herself to be infected with the deadly virus. They are also checking on those with a recent travel history in these societies. Ludhiana is being remarkably alert as health officials are visiting every household in the district to obtain a declaration if anyone in the family has travelled abroad recently or is showing symptoms of virus.

On paper, it shouldn’t be difficult for the Indian state to resort to home-to-home tests. After all, it’s a practice which is followed during vaccination drives, if not entirely during General Elections. India would find volunteers in thousands. All it needs to do is to provide these bravehearts with adequate protective gears, equipments and a few hours of training on how to conduct tests.

One hopes your government isn’t being too wary lest home-to-home tests are construed a “dry run” for National Public Register (NPR) exercise. Rumour-mongers of course are busy overtime. But frankly, the government has no option but to bite the bullet. It must take recourse to judiciary, Constitution and the long arm of law. And to hell with naysers.

Yours’ truly

Ashish Shukla

Corona Virus: India enters the stretch when the wheels could come off

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

India stood as one behind its prime minister Narendra Modi’s call to “isolate” itself on Sunday but there is a fear that the deadly Corona Virus could be laughing in the background—or in the midst of 1.3 billion people.

Any world leader could have swooned at such a doting citizenry which stood indoors and came out with pots and pans; conch-shells and bells at an appointed hour to extol India’s medical warriors in the frontline against the pandemic virus. But Modi’s words in the aftermath are one of caution: “Stay indoors”.

For the moment, Modi’s message is directed at residents of 80 districts of 22 states which have officially been “shut down.” But for grocery and medical shops, nothing moves. This figure, if the example of rest of the world is anything to go by, is due to shoot skywards in coming days, if not hours.

Nations, mauled by this virus, have shown a spike after the first 250 cases are detected. Thus, Italy went from 322 to 41,000 cases in 24 days. Spain (261 to 17,000) and the United States (233 to 14,000) went into a tailspin in just two weeks. Germany (262 to 14,000) and France (285 to 11,000) nosedived in a mere 16 days. United Kingdom took a dozen days to find its 270 cases balloon to 3,200.

India crossed its 300-patient figure last Saturday.

India, on its part, is stretching itself thin to buck this trend. Trains have stopped running as India’s migrant poor, who work in cities and different states, are coming in hordes on platforms to return home. It’s Capital, Delhi, is now formally under curfew. Most states are shutting shops, entertainment malls, restaurants, metros etc. in cities to ensure people stay indoors. Only essential services like grocery and medicine shops are exempted.

All signs indicate that India is fearing the worst. Its health ministry held a press conference on Sunday to confess they are mostly using anti-viral drugs to combat the menace. “But then countries most developed, having the best of

scientific and medical infrastructure, haven’t been able to come to grips with it,” said the official rather sheepishly.

The preparation for the worst-case scenario is underwhelming. New labs are being taken into the fold but they add only 60 to the numbers which is battle-ready from the State’s side. Schools are being converted into quarantine-wards. Medical staff in the business of testing suspect cases is complaining of inadequate protection. India would lose the battle if its medical personnel take to heels. Then there would be no stopping the marauding virus.

A committed, aware citizenry is thus India’s best bet. And there could be no better man than Modi for the task as millions swear by him. His secretariat is holding meetings with honchos of other states to get real on the situation. States increasingly are offering money and free food to aid India’s poor, without a formal job and now shunned by the shops and householders who usually seek them out on a day-to-day basis.

Isolation seems to be the first and possibly best bet for the Indian state. Many of its citizens believe that the rising temperatures could stall its spread. Some hope Indians have the requisite immunity system within their frames, having grown up in less than perfect environment, to combat virus. Nobody knows for sure.

For the moment though the nation is on its Sunday-high. The recent heat generated on Kashmir or the recent Citizenship Act is doused. Families are rooting for neighbours they hadn’t noticed previously. Indian flags are being unfurled on balconies and roof-tops. There is celebration at the sight of empty streets—quite eerie, Orwellian, for this otherwise would signify the end of the world.