As predicted, India has had enough of trying to contain COVID-19 and states are now starting to push ahead with reopening, as if the pandemic has disappeared. This is particularly true in states like Karnataka. The disconnect is pretty bizarre to see. In Karnataka, the numbers have been trending up for a while, but the authorities are focusing mostly on how to get things going again.
This is not to say that we should not open up. If we have to have any hope of even a semi-disastrous rest of 2020, we need to get economic activity going at reasonable levels again. But that cannot happen by pretending that the pandemic is a thing of the past and we can go back to being normal. There are countries in Europe that have managed this, but they all have contained the disease first.
The Indian pandemic experience is so emblematic of the country’s current approach to things. There is a severe lack of attention to details and an excess of attention provided to creating the big headlines. Things like the pandemic don’t work well with this kind of an approach. It is a steady grind where you claw your way back one step at a time. There is really no magic fix.
Part of the reason why we are taking this approach, I feel, is also because of the number of senior politicians who have been infected with the virus and have recovered. This works in two ways. 1) If the politicians, who have a great degree of control over the environment they operate in can get it, anyone can get it 2) most people who get it, will recover. Indians are quite familiar with living with chronic conditions, so, any damage that the infection can leave you with is not going to be too difficult to manage.
But the most important realization seems to be that the milder cases can be managed at home, without requiring hospitalization. The first wave where hospitals were overrun seems to be over now. The bet must be that if this can continue, the much-desired outcome of herd immunity is something that can be attempted. In fact, I believe we are now chasing a strategy that is focused on accomplishing this.
All this depends on a risky bet that we won’t get large clusters of outbreaks that will set things back badly and risk overrun hospitals. And there is just not no way of predicting and ensuring that does not happen. Whoever is making the call seems to have decided that since we have failed in containing it, even after a brutal lockdown, there is no sense in putting much effort into containing it.
This has severe implications, particularly about our ability to deal with external threats to the country. Also, going by what we have seen so far, if things don’t go to plan, we don’t have a fallback. We are going ahead assuming this will work. There is no Plan B.