Empire Diaries Desk
New Delhi: May 2, 2021: The second wave of the coronavirus pandemic is devastating the Indian heartland, scorching it with a mind boggling rise in infections and deaths. As we wonder what is going wrong, and when this surge will end, here are some urgent questions to which we need some answers:
Is it time for another full lockdown?
On paper, it’s easy to say yes, we immediately need a full lockdown. Those in favour will argue that if we could have a lockdown from March 24 last year, when the death toll was just 1 and cases were only 500, why not bring it now?
But last summer’s lockdown flattened the Indian economy as much as it tried to flatten the curve. Migrant workers were made to live (and walk) through hell. Tens of thousands of jobs were lost. The government couldn’t give financial coverage for jobs lost and wages forgone. Most importantly, the virus couldn’t be tamed for good. It’s back, bigger and deadlier. So the point is, if indeed a full lockdown is again needed to control the out-of-hand situation, at what cost will it come? Certainly we’re staring yet another horrific economic paralysis.
On what authority is top US Covid adviser, Anthony Fauci, saying that India needs a hard lockdown?
The demographics of India and the US are hugely different. America has many luxuries. It’s a rich nation, it prints the world’s reserve currency, it has robust financial coverage for the jobless, and its population is very well spread out.
India has none of these luxuries. It’s finance-strained, it has a brittle economy that lives on the brink of disaster, it doesn’t have any financial coverage for the jobless, it’s thickly populated, and its people mostly live in congested clusters.
So, no matter how good Fauci is when it comes to what’s good for America, he has no clue and no authority to lecture on what’s good for India. These are two different societies, two different worlds.
Basically, his advice is to impose a Western-style lockdown on India, which is impractical and outrageous. Will Dr Fauci and the US government pay up for the jobs gone and wages lost in India due to another full lockdown? If so, his advice is welcome!
Is the government prepared to handle another migrant exodus if there’s a lockdown?
Doesn’t look like it. Perhaps it will handle it marginally better. But it’s unlikely to be a great show from the administration if another hard lockdown sets in. Already, we’ve seen that migrant workers in Delhi have trashed Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s call for calm.
They’ve started to make a beeline to catch long-distance buses and dash back to their native places. They ain’t trusting anybody on this anymore. They’ve had enough. Once bitten, twice shy. Ask any migrant worker this question, and they will invariably tell you it will be yet another disaster.
Didn’t the government know that a second, stronger wave will strike when we all knew from historical examples that it would?
This is the mystery of the year. When Covid-19 struck last year, common people from all walks of life more or less knew that when epidemics snowball into pandemics, they come in waves – a moderate first wave, followed by a deadly second, to be followed by smaller third and fourth waves, if not more.
Even schoolkids had this basic information. But somehow, our government, despite having a full year’s time to prepare for an inevitable second wave, has been caught off guard. There’s clearly been no preparation to upgrade the healthcare set-up nationwide in order to handle a fully-expected deadly second surge. But why no preparation? What was the government’s elite flock of healthcare advisers doing all this while? Chalking out political rallies or what?
Are state governments such as Bengal, Maharashtra and Karnataka equally at fault as the centre is, for hosting super-spreader election rallies?
Of course, they are completely at fault. As much as the party in power in the centre is at fault. Problem is, after it now emerges that all those campaign rallies for the assembly elections may have served as super-spreader events, the country’s PM is being singled out for blame, while the CMs of the states that held the polls are getting away with only a gentle wrap on the knuckles. We’ve all seen them hold obnoxiously crowded rallies while the virus kept spreading.
Why are only two companies making Covid vaccines in a country of 1.39 billion?
The math just doesn’t work out here. Such a huge country, with such a gigantic population. But only two companies, SII and Bharat Biotech, are making all the Covid-19 vaccines. The writing was on the wall from day one. The current nationwide shortage of jabs was bound to happen.
Visualise this example. Summer is approaching and the country allows only two companies to produce all the ceiling fans required all over India (assuming none of the households have a ceiling fan). It’s obvious the two companies alone can’t cope with the pressure to manufacture so many millions of fans in quick time. They won’t even come close.
Similarly, with Covid-19 vaccines, especially with prior knowledge that time is of the essence in order to save precious lives, why would only two companies be allotted to take up this Herculean workload? Surely, at least four or five vaccine-making companies could have been set up across the country to simultaneously roll out vaccines to better meet the huge demand.
Is the Covishield vaccine – the Indian version of the AstraZeneca jab – causing cases of blood clots and clot-related deaths in the country?
There is no data or definitive guidance on this so far. Not even a hint of whether it’s likely or happening. We already know very well that various countries had recently suspended the use of the AZ vaccine over fears of blood clots and deaths from it, after it actually happened in several countries.
AZ and international medical experts keep downplaying it, saying that the vaccine’s benefits far outweigh its tendency to cause blood clots and related deaths in some rare cases. But here in India, we’re yet to know the impact of Covishield, which is the domestic name for the AstraZeneca vaccine.
As of now, the majority of Indians who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 have received the Covishield shot. If there’s no news of blood clots from AZ shots, that’ll be good news. Keep an eye out what vaccinated people around us are saying – don’t trust the corporate media for this information.
Why is there no clarity or government advice on India’s Covid survivors’ chances of re-infection from new variants?
This is a big question that needs to be addressed. People are really curious. India is already home to a substantial number of Covid-19 survivors. They are yet to have clarity on how impactful the new variants of the virus will be on them, once their antibody levels are down and they are open to chances of re-infection.
The administration can be forgiven on this front for the time being, though, as it is completely tied up in the almighty scramble to contain the second wave and urgently tackle a fast-escalating number of new cases and deaths from the disease.
Why are cases and deaths low in India’s slums compared to high rises and posh localities?
A million-dollar question to which there’s no explanation yet. Various theories have been floated around. But they’re not definitive. Maybe when the dust settles, scientists will be able to figure out why the virus – contrary to its nature – is making relatively less impact in highly congested slum-like settlements, but hammering well spread-out residential and office locations.
Has Covid-19 exposed the loopholes of the world’s two biggest democracies – India and the US? Both openly held poll rallies and elections amid a raging pandemic.
A philosophical question! During good times, we who live in democracies always hail elections as engines that drive our great democratic systems and values. But with a deadly virus on the loose and a pandemic causing havoc around the world, the same engines that drive democracy have turned into super-spreader events. Many people feel they could easily have been postponed until after the pandemic is over. Elections and rallies at all costs – good or bad move? Democracy is on trial. The jury is out.
Rich countries of the world are hoarding a huge number of vaccines! Some one billion!