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Face it, world. India has tackled Covid better than most advanced nations

On the day of writing this, India had reported 116 deaths from Covid. In contrast, the US, with around one-fourth the population of India, reported 1,897 deaths, or 16 times the daily deaths as India. The UK, which has one-twentieth the population of India, reported 592 deaths, or 5 times the daily deaths as India. On other metrics too — new cases, active cases — the Indian curve has flattened.

If and when the UK and the US achieve what we have, there will be major celebrations. Such low death rates would be seen as a victory of the government, citizens and science over the dreaded coronavirus. However, because we are India, we don’t get as much credit. We are considered poor, third-world and untrustworthy, incapable of achieving something like this on our own. Instead of learning from India’s experience, the first instinct is to doubt Indian data. We aren’t counting the cases right, we aren’t doing enough tests, we don’t classify the deaths properly — the list of doubts goes on and on. This, even as the tests have only increased, positivity rate has dropped and almost all Indian hospitals are seeing a drop in Covid admissions and fatalities. To think that the Deep Indian State is capable of fudging data at the level of every district and every state, and sustaining this façade for months is giving it way too much credit. Conspiracies require enormous co-ordination and effort and it isn’t quite how things work in India. Given that you can check corona data at every ward level, it is also impossible to fudge data, not to mention create a downwards curve that is moving in the same direction in virtually every corner of India. In terms of testing, while a case might be made for a lot of Indians not getting tested, it is also true that random testing has increased in the last few months. Domestic flyers into Maharashtra from many states for instance, have to get a Covid test done irrespective of symptoms. If there was rampant corona, we would see a spike in cases from just these flyers. It may be hard for people to accept this reality but almost all evidence points to the fact India has flattened the corona curve, while the US, UK and most of Europe still haven’t. What is even more remarkable about India’s achievement is that it has managed to do this without draconian lockdowns (apart from the two months in April-May 2020). In fact, cases have dropped even as India opened up more. Bihar elections had massive rallies. Farmer protests have meant lakhs of people in close contact. A Tamil movie ‘Master’ broke opening day records with literally millions of people watching it in theatres last week. Domestic flight passenger numbers are getting close to pre-Covid levels. Yet, none of these caused ‘super-spreader’ events. India doesn’t get to say this at the world stage very often, but India’s recovery from the corona crisis has been truly amazing. All this has happened without vaccines, which will now make the situation even better.

It would do the world some good if it gave India some credit on handling the virus, and learnt something from us as well. The only countries more successful than India are authoritarian, undemocratic regimes, where one cannot even criticise the government so it is also not possible to know the true impact of their coronavirus response policies.

So how did we do so well? I am no expert, but here are some plausible reasons.

1) Indians have developed herd immunity. For instance, a serological survey in Delhi showed over half of Delhi’s population has Covid antibodies and, hence, probably have already had the virus.

2) This also suggests that Indians have better immunity than people in Western countries. Whether it is because our kids grow up playing in mud, or we eat some special herbs and spices, or we eat street food or we get more sun or we have lesser obesity rates is something the experts have to figure out.

Other reasons might include

3) A natural instinct amongst Indians to stay safe, knowing that they have nobody coming to their rescue if they do get the disease and

4) The initial strict lockdown creating a huge awareness about the disease, making people take precautions seriously. Of course, some reasons may well remain unknown and it might just be a blessing from God that we didn’t see the kind of mayhem seen in the West.

Covid is, of course, far from over. It is important we stay cautious until the vaccination drive is done. However, it is about time the world acknowledged what India has achieved, which is dramatically lowering the impact of Covid on 1.4 billion people, or one sixth of humanity. It is also time we pat ourselves on our back for being strong enough to fight the virus, and continue to keep wearing that face mask a little while longer. Well done, Indians!

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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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