A Crisis of Containment

It’s July 7th and India has now become the country that is most afflicted by the coronavirus in South-Asia. The country has recorded over 20,000 cases of infection for the fourth consecutive day, thereby becoming the third worst-hit nation by the pandemic, right behind the US and Brazil. Having breached the 7,00,000 tally mark after concluding over 1,00,00,000 tests till date, the country today seems to be in the throngs of massive community transmission, even as clinical trials for indigenous vaccines are set to roll out in the days to come.

Are we finally at the precipice of containing the disease? Although the jury is still out on that one, there is much to decode as the pandemic rolls into the dreaded second-wave. Here’s all that we know…

India: The Story in Numbers

The situation with relation to the novel coronavirus here in India is anything but sanguine. Even though in terms of total per capita deaths, India ranks 115 among all countries, the country has reported a spike in the uptick of over a lakh afflicted patients in just four days. Today with over 7,195,665 cases in India, including 2,59,557 active cases (last reported), the 1-billion-plus strong nation is the third-worst hit nation by the pandemic, just behind Brazil and the USA.

Thankfully, the fatality rate in India is low even as the testing capacity has increased to over 3 lakh daily. Yet things are far from normal as parts of the country remain under continued lockdown even today. While parts of West Bengal remain in total shutdown for a week at least, the lockdown persists in containment zones under the Unlock 2.0 programme as many states maintain vigil. The following states are said to have been reopened under strict guidelines — Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh. Meanwhile, states such as Telangana have rung alarm bells over the increasing number of cases, where the health infrastructure is severely stretched. Telangana already in a virtual lockdown is mulling extending it for at least a month more.

Strike Three and Out

If the thought of Work From Home seems to be stressing you out, the situation is much direr at frontlines of the Covid-19 pandemic. Reports of the health infrastructure being stretched have been making the rounds globally, but India faced at least 3 large strikes by doctors over the last few weeks.

In a case reported just a few days after July 1 — considered the National Doctor’s Day, Karnataka hiked the payscale of MBBS doctors under contract from Rs 45,000 to Rs 60,000 per month, yet these doctors still have the Damocles sword hanging above them. Over 500 MBBS doctors have thrown an ultimatum to not work beyond July 8 unless their jobs are made permanent and regularised.

These doctors had earlier complained of not getting paid their stipend for over 16 months, even as they went beyond the call of duty during these trying times. A few private hospitals in Bangalore have beds and ventilators, but no doctors, meanwhile, private hospitals in Telangana have flown in emergency personnel from Kerala and other states to meet the new demand for medicos.

The Search for the Solution

Still, the search for a permanent viable solution to the pandemic remains at large. Human trials of Covaxin, India’s first Covid-19 vaccine, produced by Bharat Biotech and Indian Council of Medical Research, is to begin soon. Earlier, ICMR had ordered 12 institutes to recruit people for clinical trials by July 7 with a warning that “non-compliance would be viewed very seriously.” However, many medical experts claimed this to be ambitiously dangerous. Meanwhile, Zydus Cadila has also got an approval from Drugs Controller General of India for human trials of ZyCov-D, an indigenously produced vaccine candidate. Currently, there are 18 experimental Covid-19 vaccines in various phases of human trials all over the world. There remains hope in times of darkness.

Work From Home, Now Here to Stay

Although for most of Corporate India, work from home remains the norm, others are easing in work restrictions, especially in India’s software parks. TCS, Infosys, Wipro, Cognizant, WNS and Genpact, with offices in several SEZs and Software Tech Parks, have been seeking clarifications from regulatory bodies to relax work norms.

Last month, however, NASSCOM had sought guidance on whether WFH could be rolled out to employees forever by companies working from SEZs. TCS — India’s biggest software firm, believes around 75% of its 4.5 lakh force will be following WFH norms by 2025, while Infosys expects around 33% of its employees to provide services from home. Similarly, Wipro is looking at a hybrid model while HCL Technologies has capped the staff at work in offices to just 50%.

A Gift that Keeps on Giving

2020, however, seems like a year that keeps on giving. While the world grapples with the novel coronavirus, a new study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences cites a new strain of swine flu, emerging out of China, that has now transmitted from pigs to humans. Although the virus is not known to spread through human to human transmission, it’s a matter of a random mutation suggest scientists, before this new disease rears its ugly head. Meanwhile, the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia has suspected the first few cases of bubonic plague, emerging from rodents. The plague which in the Middle Ages was referred to as ‘Black Death’ due to its notoriety for having claimed 50 million deaths in Europe alone, seems to have made a comeback in this year of reckoning.

Preparing for the Worst, Hoping for the Best.

It’s important to keep vigil and sight of things, as the news grows grimmer with each passing day. Earlier this week, 239 scientists from 32 countries wrote an open letter to the World Health Organisation that the Covid-19 virus could remain airborne for some time.

Currently, the WHO guidelines mention the spread via aerosols only in healthcare settings and is reportedly underplaying the new findings. If true, what does that mean for the prevalent protocols? For the most part, the same norms need to be followed, a lot more religiously — maintaining social distancing norms, wearing masks, paying attention to building ventilation, and avoiding crowds.

It’s important that as newer information comes to light, we maintain our vigil and stay safe at homes. Restrict your movement as far as possible to battle the current crisis. While keeping your spirits high is the need of the hour, we need to prepare for the worst, even as we hope for the best. Stay safe!

© 2020 Gut & Flow Media Pvt. Ltd.

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