India’s daily Covid cases surged by 100,000 recently, a record that prompted countrywide panic. Last autumn, India reported over 8 million Covid cases nationwide, but a new study led by professors from the University of Chicago and Duke University suggests that the state of Karnataka alone had approximately 32 million cases by the end of August last year.
Other scientific studies have put underreporting of Covid cases worldwide between 35 and 50 per cent of those reported. A credible Worldometer web site shows the number of worldwide deaths to be nearly 3 million. Factoring for underreporting, these could easily be 4 million. Of course this is nothing compared to the approximately 50 million deaths caused by the Spanish flu, which raged between 1918-20.
Brazil is reeling today. So are India and the US. So is Europe. Daily worldwide new cases are crossing 700,000 globally now. Factoring for underreporting, these could be easily crossing a million globally. On 8 January 2021, the spike was 8,50,000 (not accounting for underreporting).
Daily deaths too seem to be tracking the trend of daily cases. Vaccines went into effect in January, but it seems that they do not seem to have had much effect in reducing the number of daily Covid cases or daily Covid deaths. In many US states that are vaccinating rapidly, the number of Covid cases seems to be surging as well. Perhaps newer and newer variants of the virus are being discovered, with which the vaccines can’t cope as yet.
In India, the spike in cases is blamed on festivals like Holi and Easter, when people gather closely. In the US it is blamed on Spring Break, when students let their hair down and party. But all over the world a festival is right around the corner where people will mingle irrespective of the hazards involved.
It would be foolhardy to blame the vaccines, to say that they are not having an effect. During Donald Trump’s reign, the US was careless about the virus. But Florida, a state with a population of 22 million has reported 34,000 total deaths so far. California, a state with a population of 40 million has reported 60,000 total deaths so far. On a per capita basis, the number of deaths is similar.
But Florida has kept the state relatively open and humming for business. California has had frequent lockdowns. In addition, Florida has a large population of seniors who are most susceptible to the virus. Florida recommends but does not require a face mask whereas California has a strict masking policy.
The debate in the US, especially on the right, is raging. What is the efficacy of social distancing? What is the efficacy of masks? What is the efficacy of lockdowns? Donald Trump spurned all and his followers cite Florida’s example and claim that he was right after all.
In Brazil, President Bolsonaro has displayed the same shocking attitude towards the virus as Donald Trump did. Today Brazil, like India, is touching 1,00,000 new cases a day. Factoring for underreporting, total Covid deaths in Brazil have easily crossed half a million. In the US, the country with the largest number of Covid deaths, the number of Covid cases is close to 900,000 factoring for underreporting.
Both the US and Brazil had/have cavalier leaders in Trump and Bolsonaro respectively. India in Narendra Modi does not. What gives in India then? In India, half the number of the recently discovered one lakh plus daily cases originate in the state of Maharashtra alone. Maharashtra is the richest state in the country, with some of the best medical infrastructure. Yet, the chief minister of the state, Uddhav Thackeray, has been blaming migrants as well as that Maharashtra is a major financial and transportation hub for the Covid crisis in his state ever since its inception.
Modi has finally dispatched a team to Maharashtra to figure out what is going wrong there. A security scare near the house of Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, seems to have spooked Maharashtra’s government. One thing has led to another with the uncovering of a major possible scam in Thackeray’s government. Apparently, the police were being coerced to collect hafta (protection money) from shopkeepers and bars to the tune of crores.
When there are frequent lockdowns in the state, how are business establishments able to pony up such hefty payments? That is just the irony of India. People are dying from Covid en masse, and the government of the day is apparently busy running a racket. All deaths are ascribed to their karma. How can a government manage a massive pandemic while at the same time being distracted by corruption and by coping with the ire of the country’s richest man and one of its most powerful?
If Maharashtra seems singularly capable of managing the pandemic soon enough, Modi must certainly consider dispatching Thackeray’s government in short order and imposing federal rule.
Masks work, they don’t work. Social distancing works, it doesn’t work. Lockdowns work, they don’t work? Who knows what’s going on? President Bolsonaro has asked Brazilians to stop whining about their dead. One thought that one mourned for one’s dead, not whined for them. But Brazilians are so busy burying their dead, whose corpses arrive faster than they can dig their unmarked graves, that they have neither the time nor the energy to either whine or mourn.
The writer is an expert on energy and contributes regularly to publications in India and overseas.