Why we shouldn’t be careless about Covid-19
In this Covid-19 calm, the central government and the WHO should sit down together and discuss calculations made by both sides to find out what went wrong and how to put that right
Two weeks ago, after more than two years cooped up in a small flat on a noisy road running along the edge of Nizamuddin Basti in New Delhi, I had to ring my editor and tell her I had finally fallen victim to Covid-19, and would not be able to write my column for her. Phlegm was pouring out of my nostrils like it had never poured before, and I was coughing as though I hadn’t given up smoking some 30 years ago.
My partner Gilly was no better off. So, we called for the tester. He came with remarkable efficiency and by that evening, we were confirmed Covid-19 patients.
Fortunately, two weeks later, I am without a cold or a cough, happily typing my column. Neither of us has taken any special medicine.
I am not telling this story to persuade readers that they need not worry about the coronavirus pandemic. I realise how insulting that would be to the family and friends of Vinod Dua, for instance. He and his talented wife, Chinna, died from Covid-19 after long struggles in and out of the hospital. Gilly and I remember with joy and sadness the last evening we spent with them in a hotel room at the pre-Covid-19 Jaipur Literature Festival.
I am telling this story because I want the comparison of Vinod and Chinna’s tragedies with what appears to be the good fortune Gilly and I have enjoyed to highlight the dangers India still faces. One risk is forgetting about Covid-19 and dropping our defences. We hear so little about Covid-19 these days and what we do hear appears to be so harmless that, as a country, we are in danger of forgetting about potential problems such as another possible wave.
We have become so careless about Covid-19 that we don’t care how many people it has killed. Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) maintained that 4.7 million Indians had died of Covid-19. The government’s figure is half a million. The difference between the two set off a short-lived political row with Rahul Gandhi attacking Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi, saying, “Forty-seven lakhs Indians died from Covid not four point seven lakhs. Science doesn’t lie. Modi does.” The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accused Gandhi of playing politics with Covid-19 deaths. The government claims that the WHO’s calculations were “statistically unsound and scientifically questionable.”
The WHO figure being almost 10 times the government’s figure for Covid-19 deaths should be a matter of great importance. At present, this is particularly so because India is trying to attract investment from America, Britain, Australia, Japan, and the European Union to revive the economy from the damage inflicted by Covid-19.
This controversy must have jolted their confidence in India as an investment destination. The recent travels of the prime minister and the leaders who have come to New Delhi to talk with him demonstrate how seriously he takes his international reputation. Unfortunately, the gap between the Indian and WHO figures won’t help his case.
In India, it is said that only one in five deaths are registered. There must, therefore, be inherent problems with the country’s method of counting its population. Those problems surely couldn’t have been set right while the underfunded health system struggled to cope with the pandemic itself.
In this Covid-19 calm, the central government and the WHO should sit down together and discuss calculations made by both sides to find out what went wrong and how to put that right. Are they doing so? I don’t know, because the coronavirus pandemic suffers from media fatigue, the most common killer of news items.
The views expressed are personal