COVID19 is national disaster of the same scale as the pandemic of swine flu of 1918. In 1918, unfortunately about 6% of Indian population died and it was an unmitigated human disaster. We have a monstrous problem and we need all our collective ability to reduce the effect of this deadly disease.
As the virus is spreading, people are dying. It is a death of unimaginable pain specifically when they get sick enough to get admitted to ICU. The virus eats a layer of the lungs and the lungs gets filled with blood. People who had worked their entire life and wanted to spend their rest of life in peace are removed from the face of earth suddenly. Unfortunately, even Italians, Spanish and Americans with their superior medical and public health system are dying in droves. Should we move to the community spread stage we will reach unimaginable level of human destruction given India’s health infrastructure, public health support and general level of poverty and immense population.
However, in the last 4 weeks, we have seen coming together millions of people who have made immeasurable sacrifice in the face this disaster. First starting with police, who are always maligned are spending endless hours on the beat enduring enormous amount of stress, sleeplessness and many are performing extraordinarily. Some of them are feeding the people, controlling their anger, and begging people to stay at home. Many government employees are spending whole day in the work and making enormous effort to contain the spread of virus. Most of the administrators and ministers at every level of government are visibly doing their work and many in opposition are standing by the government. The health care workers which includes doctors, nurses, support clinical persons, ambulance drivers and public health workers who go everyday, every street and conducting survey, collecting information and in the process put their life in risk. Imagine the risk to these millions of people staying close to patients who are spreading the virus day in and day out. In a way millions of migrant workers who are uprooted are another set of heroes. These people are the foundation over which the country’s economy is built they have made to lost most of their lives worth and they are paying through enormous suffering.
Despite the great sacrifices of multiple set of people and government action there is a large and insurmountable challenge ahead of us. There is no cure now and we learn from the scientist only when the vaccine or control medicine is found this menace will go away. But that is at least 12 months away. In the meantime, untold number of theories are floated how to handle but nothing is without risk for a country like India. There are three major things we can do to make the effects of the pandemic lessoned when the pandemic goes to third phase of community spread.
- Test, Trace and Isolate: The government, private sector and entire academic community are working tirelessly in getting more test kits locally and from abroad. Adding more test stations to strengthen and increase the testing to a significant level so that we can test massively to identify the infected. Trace the people who might have contacted the infected person and isolate them too. This is a mammoth proportion of task and not easy even to comprehend how will we do for a population of 1.3 B. Let us not despair we do conduct elections involving 85 crore people and we can do emergency response of test, trace and isolate in the same scale and with an urgency embodied in it. All the scientist and intellectuals can prepare a blue book for doing this activity.
- Enormously increase the emergency preparedness – building makeshift hospitals, ventilators, masks, medicine, technology as much as possible that will bear the burnt in the next three or months within the humanly possible speed. If the estimates of community spread that is bandied is believed even at lower end we are looking in millions. Since we are having worldwide pandemic there will be no support from the outside of India but converting the railway cars or old ships that are came for wrecking to hospitals. How far this emergency preparedness can take us is something no one can assure enough.
- However, the above two actions require time and it is just that we do not have at hand. In the meantime, the only option is the flattening the curve meaning slowing down the rate with which the infection spreads. Flattening to such an extent that our health care can handle reliably is what is need of the hour. Since our health infrastructure has extremely limited number of beds, ICUs, doctors and hospitals and it will break even at minor acceleration in the spread. The only way the spread can be slowed is by the absolute commitment to social distancing of all of 1.3 B people.
The social distancing is now getting broad acceptance in the country though it is still needing enforcement by police and many find it cumbersome. Some are flippantly ignoring it by false sense of security with poor understanding of consequences. It is simply irresponsible as even a small node causes a spread. It is a challenge that no one is used to, but we must learn it assiduously. The best way to do it is understanding that the life we know is no longer exists and we adjust to new reality. But the good news once the gravity of the situation is understood the steps are so simple and I will try to make a general list.
- Voluntarily support by not venturing out for unnecessary reasons when in lock down.
- Buy items only as much as we need and buy for 2 -3 days of vegetables so that you can avoid venturing out.
- Follow discipline in physical distancing.
- Keep exercise, yoga, and other activities to make the body fit when staying inside the house. Healthy body found to have helped the immune system or if you need to help others.
- Pray, drink water, and do useful activities that enriches the life and sleep well.
- Stop the fake whatsapp and facebook and other forwards and other items and also stop using the anonymity of social media for hate.
- Help others in need
- Follow these simple rules as told by everyone on staying healthy and avoiding the spread.
- Wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds, with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub
- Cover your nose and mouth with a disposable tissue or flexed elbow when you cough or sneeze
- Avoid close contact (1 meter or 3 feet) with people who are unwell
- Stay home and self-isolate from others in the household if you feel unwell
- Use home made face mask but dispose that often
- Touch your eyes, nose, or mouth if your hands are not clean
Above all the need of the hour is to spread among our circles, friends, guilds groups and others and make them overcome the differences in religion, caste, creed, language, region , state and every other divisions like secular, communal, north, south and northeast. Even if someone does something wrong, try to keep sanity in difficult time. Let us overcome our differences to save the population as we know it today.
We have a special appeal to Brothers and Sisters of Islam. You had been through your challenges magnified because of some minuscule wayward people from your religion bringing disrepute. Indore incident which got such a bad publicity where the crowd chased a doctor who came to help should not have happened. Please note one of the doctors who was chased ironically is Muslim – Dr.Zakiyah Sayeed. She is our daughter and sister and we know this must stop. Based on science, Mecca itself is closed to public and Haj is halted, none of us can justify going to Mosque and crowding it. In many countries group of people join remotely through zoom and do prayers. The same applies to all religions and community members that the god can be reached through prayers and even electronically assemble player groups.
I do have similar appeal to some Hindus who make the Tablihi Jamaat as the reason for virus spread. It is a conference and unfortunate timing but let us not attribute motive for this. It was such an old Indian tradition of more than one hundred years to bring back piety in Islam. Stop using this for any divisive behavior. We will get over the virus, but this attribution will leave a scar for a long time.
Since we have a strong and invisible enemy against which we have no weapon, the only way we can fight is through a united and disciplined approach. Follow the simple rules and bear the pain of this period with grit. Spread the right message and do the right actions. We do not have to counter and correct all those who have differing opinions like news anchors, politicians, religious people, news papers of different viewpoints and political hues. Let us stay positive and spread the important message.
Let us hope and pray together and take our resolve when we join with the whole of India on lighting for nine minutes at 9.00 PM on April 5th for solidarity. We have just one goal -reduce the number of deaths.