he nation, apparently, has again reposed trust in Prime Minister Narendra Modi and made the ‘Janata Curfew’ a success. People by and large have kept indoors with the same fortitude that they stood in line during demonetisation. Of course, this is an entirely different kettle of fish; here what the common folk stands to lose is far more precious than the few hundreds or thousands of rupees they would have lost had they not exchanged devalued old notes for new. In terms of the effect of the exercise, though, it is doubtful whether the ‘Janata Curfew’ would have any better results than demonetisation. It is doubtful whether the 14-hour hiatus will actually slow the spread of virus. It has been noticed that the fear of the virus is such that hordes of migrant labourers have returned home to their villages to escape the disease. These very people can seed the disease even in India’s rural hinterland, which was, till now, largely unaffected by the disease. The question is whether the rural healthcare network in the country is robust enough to handle such an emergency. Instead of appealing to people to stay put where they presently are and not move elsewhere, PM Modi preferred to make the exercise a lot more dramatic. He asked the populace to create noise at 1700 hours to show support for health workers, police personnel, municipal employees and media persons who were risking their own lives to help retain balance in society. This call was no big brainer. The idea was directly plagiarized from what the people, without government instructions, have been doing for past few weeks in Spain, Italy, Switzerland and a few other European countries which have imposed strict lockdown in various parts to control the pandemic through isolation. In those countries, the idea is primarily to drive away loneliness and offer people mental courage. Here in India, we made it a political message.
There are various reports indicating that one key reason why countries such as Britain and Italy have been badly hit by CoVID-19 is the lack of staff to provide adequate care to patients. India is far worse on that front. The country is also severely short of doctors. The official figures come to 0.62:1,000 in a population that stands at about 1.50 billion. The fact that CoVID-19 still has no cure makes matters worse. While all the debate is raging on Corona virus and its ill effects, there is also a quiet research on another aspect running parallel. The answers to CoVID 19 might not come from the RNA based diagnostic tests now being given by the tens of thousands. This test looks for presence of viral genes in a nose or throat swab, sign of an active infection. However, scientists are also now testing a person’s blood for antibodies to the new virus, known as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Such tests can detect active infections but, more importantly, they can tell whether a person has been infected in the past and has developed antibodies for it. This will indicate that individual’s immunity to the disease and ability to be in the vanguard of the fight against the pandemic. This group of people may be very vital in the near future.
The ‘Janata Curfew’ and other measures taken by private organisations have led to an exodus of migrants from their workplaces to respective hometowns. Such acts could provoke the situation to turn from bad to worse rapidly. In their paper published in the journal ‘Demographic Science’, University of Oxford researchers have reported that the reasons for the inflated effects of CoVID-19 on Italy could be twofold: First, that country has a high population of the elderly. It has the second oldest population in the world — about 23 per cent of the country’s population is above the age of 65 compared with 16 per cent of the US. The segment of the population that is worst affected by the disease is the elderly and that has worsened the situation in Italy. Nonetheless, it is not conclusive evidence as countries such as Japan, which have larger populations of the elderly, are not as badly affected by CoVID-19. The second factor that research has reported is the mingling of youngsters of Italy with the elderly. Youngsters in cities of Italy socialised much and when they moved back to their ancestral homes to meet grandparents, which was often, they facilitated the silent spread of the disease. Japan, on the other hand was perhaps saved from a similar fate owing to the lower socialization habits of the people, given the workaholic nature of the younger people. But that again is mere conjecture, which will have to be backed by etiological evidence. In India, we have not seen such a rapid spread of the disease, perhaps because our demographics are skewed more in favour of youngsters. Or, alternatively, as proposed by some researchers, it may be because the cases have not been discovered. It is possible the spread has been going on for some time but since India badly lacks the system to measure the damage, we are happily ignorant of the true situation. The argument that heightened immunity due to a large younger population may be a reason why the disease has not made rapid strides and affected us badly does not hold good any more after the death of a 38 year old man in Patna. All these are no more factors to believe that we are safe. If the disease has not done damage, our actions and the general conditions prevailing globally are adequate to derail our economy. While the ‘Janata Curfew’ may be fine for one day, it being a Sunday which is anyway a ‘No Business Day’ for many concerns, repeats of the effort are inadvisable for a weakened economy. The PM has not yet announced any significant measure to support people who have lost their earnings for the day. While we citizens clapped for the health service providers, the country is incapable or unwilling to give basic safety clothes and equipment to those very same health care providers, thus putting them at heightened risk. While the middle class and those better off have purchased masks and hand sanitisers off the shelves of pharmacies, the poor man who struggles to feed and clothe herself/himself is bound to be more affected by the disease. If s/he takes ill, or worse dies, households will be left without a breadwinner. It is time the government got serious about also addressing the economic worries that are bound to emerge once the disease scare subsides.