I am a Ph.D. in
Business and not a medical science doctor. You might then ask what gives me the
right to write this article. Well I have been thinking of this kind of a
situation and its economic consequences for over 15 years and here is the
I had done this article
15 years back*, in Oct 2005. At that time, most of the members in my editorial
team had a sarcastic smirk on my obsession to make it the cover story of our
magazine, Business & Economy. They asked me why a story about a stupid fear
of pandemic should make it to the cover of a Business magazine.
Now that everyone
globally seems to fear a similar situation, I think I can share a few thoughts.
The fact of the matter
is the entire world was not prepared for such a pandemic. The painful example
of a super developed nation like Italy shows it best. So let’s not have any
illusion about the fact that as a nation we are totally unprepared for the
consequences of this virus and our risk estimates are very conservative. Every
nation around the world is estimating 60-70% of its total population will get
affected by the virus. Which means in our case 100 crores /1 billion people
might get affected. Yes that’s the scary possibility of this. And at a
conservative figure of about 5% deaths (given its 10% plus in Italy and 4% in
China, both with far better health facilities) we can expect 50 million deaths
maybe within the next 12 months in India alone. In my 2005 article I had used exactly
this figure on the cover. 50 million dead.
No this might not
happen. And I hope it won’t happen. And I have reasons to hope.
The fact that the
continent of Africa despite the huge Chinese business interest there and the
huge Chinese population and AfroChinese new generation, has remained relatively
less affected (strangely no one seems to be writing about it) by the virus does
give me a hope that maybe (remember no research had proven this) heat and
humidity will make the spread of this virus less effective in certain regions
and India could possibly fall into that category. But on such an un-researched
hope we can’t pin all our hopes.
Assuming that we indeed
get affected like other countries are getting, India will necessarily have to
find out a completely new way out. The answer is simple. We are a poor country.
If we get affected then what will happen will be beyond what the world can
fathom or has possibility seen ever in the last hundred years and more.
Our medical facilities
are inadequate even to serve the normal needs forget handle a four to eight
fold increase in deaths in a year. And the spread here will be unlike it has
been anywhere in the world. Because of extreme poverty and 50-70% of most city
dwellers living in slums, the spread will be faster and the multiplier far more
than 2.6 times. We have families of 4-8 living in one room. They have no access
to hygiene. For them sanitizers and soaps are luxuries.
In their case average
age of those dying will not be 65 plus but 45 plus given they hardly live to
see 65. Most in any case have existing health issues and therefore the
percentage can be more than Italy’s 10%.
>>>> So we
will have FASTER SPREAD, HIGHER % of DEATHS and YOUNGER people dying.
And of course add to
that our lack of education that prohibits men especially to easily to accept
new rules of hygiene etc.
Are we prepared? Is
anyone even thinking or writing? No.
Instead as I write this
article I hear people banging utensils outside. I appreciate the goodwill
gesture but that’s irrelevant at this point of time.
We don’t realize if we
really get affected we will have the poor of this country affected like never
before. Crematoriums won’t be able to manage so many deaths. Dead bodies in every
other poor home will spread more illness. Even the rich will not be spared,
because till it’s too evident the poor will hide their illness and come to work
at our homes. In any case the virus mostly takes two days and more to show
symptoms so even when they look healthy they could be carrying the virus.
We are copying ideas
from developed countries to stop the spread of Coronavirus and unfortunately we
are exceedingly late. Those in my WhatsApp groups will touch for the fact that
I have been warning them about the upcoming disaster since December. I stopped
putting messages in the group from the day finally UN declared it as a
pandemic.. because since then everyone else has been putting enough.
So why can’t we afford lock downs?
We can’t afford lockdowns
because our poor who are already living at destitution levels will not be able
to live without their daily wages. They will die of hunger (unless they already
are) and malnutrition before they die of Coronavirus. Secondly our governments
will not transfer minimum wages to their bank accounts to help them live. And
finally even our small and medium businesses won’t be able to take the huge
We have amongst the
world’s worst social security and social health system. We are looking at doom
if we are to blindly copy developed countries beyond one point.
So what do we need to do?
We have to have a campaign which has been unseen in India’s history, raising
awareness about mandatory isolation of those with existing health conditions
and those above a certain age like 60.
In slums and places where big families stay in one room we have to start
emergency social quarantine facilities so that people can mandatorily shift the
elders from their homes to these facilities. For all others it has to be
mandatory self quarantine for those at high risk.
We need to make sure that soaps and sanitizers are available in plenty and
companies must be aided to start its production overnight and people must be
explained that they can’t touch their mouth, eyes or nose even once without
cleaning their hands. The poor most be provided at lowest possible cost and
even free if required.
We must have minimum money transferred to the accounts of those quarantined so
that they can meet their loving expenses.
We must give businesses tax breaks and banks must give special moratoriums on
loans so that they can cope up with this emergency situation.
We must explain people that like flu this will affect most of us without
serious damage if we don’t belong to the lot being quarantined. So the fear and
panic must be removed while the focus on hygiene is increased. We must explain
that worldwide we have 2000 deaths daily from normal flu and from Coronavirus
we are still at only about 800 and it can be reduced.
By following this, we might bring the deaths from Coronavirus down to the
lowest in the world because those out in the open and contracting it would be
healthy people – only the 85% who are not likely to die. Often they won’t even
come to know they got the virus. So they will get it and recover like they do
from normal flu.
At the end of the day
we need to realize this virus is here to stay and we can’t remain indoors. We
have to face it.
Those at highest risk
(research in Italy clearly shows that 99% of those dying had previous health
issues) should be self quarantined at home or in emergency quarantine
facilities set up in their localities.
AND WE WILL SAVE THE
ECONOMY FROM GETTING RUINED AND MILLIONS FROM DYING A FRW YEARS TOO EARLY.
And with the hope that
medicines and vaccinations will be developed soon, I am sure this situation
won’t last too long. It’s just a 6 month to 18 month inconvenience that we can
conquer with commitment and intelligence. In fact researches have already shown
a couple of medicines to be working well. I can’t write those names here
because then idiots will line up to stock them at home. I do believe personally
India on a lockdown is going to mean a bigger disaster than what I have
I hope people in power
at least give a thought to this instead of giving knee jerk reactions.
*What a coincidence
that Prof. A Sandeep who helped me with this article went on to become a keen
virology enthusiast and is now the CEO of a group in Bangladesh that runs the
Apollo hospitals out there. I’m always indebted to him for his inputs.