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India

Covid is ravaging India. It took a lot longer than I thought it would. I don’t know what to attribute that to. Coworkers from and in India presently, have been variously sequestered or in intermittent lockdown for the last year.

There was a period of time early in the pandemic when some of them were a bit smug about their low Covid numbers. Yep, for a couple of months, when other countries were reporting a rapid increase in cases, the John’s Hopkins Covid tracker showed a total of 4 cases in India, which at the time seemed grossly irresponsible to me. My Indian friends said that was due to Indians’ natural immunity to Covid or the subcontinental hot climate.

(Funny, that’s the kind of thing I would have expected from a prime minister who thrives on nationalism and is planning on taking the Trumpian approach to pandemic control.)

They quickly had to reassess their assumptions when it was pointed out that Singapore was also hot and steamy and not only were they reporting realistic numbers showing that heat and humidity had not curtailed spread, those numbers indicated a concerted effort by the government of the city state to stop the spread as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

My gut feeling is that there were many cases of Covid and many deaths early in the pandemic but those cases weren’t visible and reported because many deaths might be attributed to some other cause. There’s a cultural aspect to this I’m sure. And conflict between Hindus and other religions in India, particularly Moslems, has caused disunity and focused disproportionate attention on the culture wars and away from pandemic control.

So the epidemic simmered beneath the surface for more than a year. The numbers for much of last year were unbelievable. As in, they weren’t credible for an airborne disease in a country with a billion people. And now it’s starting to catch up with Modi and his government.

My friends are scared. They’re scared for their families back at home. It was bad when Covid ran amok here during the Trump admin. But the US is not nearly as crowded or, in some areas, as poor. The numbers are going nuclear. Also, once Biden took over, the science and governmental agencies that were held back, were able to get their gears turning quickly.

At least we were out there with the scale of our problem. It was horrifying and embarrassing but imagine what it must have been like in India last year when the numbers didn’t reflect how serious the problem was and the public was reassured that India was stopping the virus at the borders. We all know now that once it gains a foothold in your country, stopping it at the border is just putting a bandaid on the problem and efforts need to be redirected internally.

Whatever vaccine we send is going to be a drop in the bucket at this point. India needs to vaccinate hundreds of millions of people as soon as possible. The size of the problem means there are going to be some significant new variants in the future.

The Indian pharmas need to step it up now and forge their own paths. This is an emergency. They can do this and they must.

5 Responses

  1. It is very sobering to think about why so many countries choose terrible leaders who are worse than useless in such emergencies. We did with Trump. Brazil did. India. Nationalist frenzy and the appeal of some kind of “social darwinism freedom” seem to be the main factors. Had none of these been elected, Covid would have been dealt with far earlier and more effectively. It really isn’t that hard to try to choose leaders who have intelligence and compassion, and who believe in science. But many don’t understand this, or prefer the slogans of nationalism and libertarianism.

    • I don’t feel like looking up the exact quote, but the late George Carlin said to think about how stupid the average person is, and then realize that–by the definition of “average”–half of them must be stupider than that.

  2. All I know is that when India was trumpeting its low numbers one of my employees was frantic because virtually her entire family was hospitalized in Hyderabad and there was no way for her to get home to help take care of them. Guys like Modi, Trump, Bolsinaro, and Putin lied through their teeth about the extent of COVID in their countries.

    • Wait! Were her family members the four that India admitted to back in February?

  3. Having taken two one-month-long trips to India as a yoga student, back in the aughts. My sense of the place is that it is extremely civilized, just poor. They have very interesting ways of doing physical tasks — more labor, less oil, but effective. For example, on a building site, I could see a work gang passing mixed concreted in pails from hand to hand in order to pour it for a construction site, rather than have one or two workers do the whole task while using a large truck. But the building gets built nonetheless.

    Similarly, while driving in the Himalaya (or, rather being driven by the cabbie I hired for the trip, it’s something no foreigner would dare), I had to deal with a rockslide that blocked the road. All of us in that resultant traffic jam got out of our cars and waited for a crew to dynamite the largest boulder. Then a bulldozer cleared the debris and we were on our way. The whole thing took four hours. In the US such a highway would have a shed/ roof over the rockslide prone area, and anyone passing through could have remained blissfully unaware as the rocks tumbled overhead and into the river below.

    All this is to say. India really does have the brains and organization to do much better than they have on this one. It would just look different than it does in a “first” world county. The indian state of Kerala, in particular, was known for having done a pretty decent job of covid mitigation, at least for the first few months; too bad the rest of India did not follow their example. When all is said and done, the covid plague will be unspeakably tragic there.

    BTW. If you go in for meditation (regardless of tradition) the ancient temples of India are must-see wonders of the world. Places where one great saint or another (or more than one) taught — and where people have prayed subsequently for millennia. Just sitting for awhile at any of them is an experience. In my experience Jerusalem is also sort of like that, I was just too young to really appreciate it when I was there.

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