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 proof:
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 jolt.
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?
>>>>>1. 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.
>>>>>2. 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.
>>>>>3. 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.
>>>>>4. We must have minimum money transferred to the accounts of those quarantined so that they can meet their loving expenses.
>>>>>5. We must give businesses tax breaks and banks must give special moratoriums on loans so that they can cope up with this emergency situation.
>>>>>6. 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.
>>>>>7. 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 suggested above.
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.