4 May 2020: The Hindu Editorial Analysis
1) Slow release: On lockdown 3.0-
The Centre has extended the national lockdown for COVID-19 for two weeks from May 4, with fewer restrictions on activity. But the highly contagious virus has not disappeared and the weeks ahead present a challenge to States.
They must ensure that the gains from the lockdown in terms of a relatively low death toll and a cap(limit) on new cases are not reversed overnight in the red, orange and green zones, where normality of varying degrees is to be restored, barring(leaving) the containment zones.
Kerala, lauded(praised) for its success in containing the pandemic, has chosen to retain some curbs(restrictions) even in green zones. Allowing some economic activity, though not at full pace, and under safeguards, was inevitable(required). The stipulations(estimation) in the Home Ministry’s orders require a high degree of civic cooperation.
‘HOW TO’ APPROACH:
The continued suspension of air, rail, inter-State and urban public transport, and the bar(restriction) on mass gatherings and entertainment venues remove a major source of crowding. The restrictions on the number of passengers allowed in private vehicles and taxi cabs, and the protocol for personnel in industries call for strict adherence(follow) to succeed.
Allowing outpatient clinics to reopen and the permission given for plumbers, electricians and other technicians to work with safeguards are welcome. The relaxation process can be eased greatly if States adopt a ‘how to’ approach and communicate to citizens clearly.
In the absence of medical remedies(solutions), prevention remains the only option against the virus. Using face masks, now mandatory, hand washing and physical distancing at all times are universally recognised precautions.
Such measures were adopted relatively late in India, with politicians initially reluctant(unwilling) to even adjourn(postpone) legislatures, leave alone impose strict curbs on public activity. It has taken more than a month to move migrant workers back to their home States by train. In the interim(intermediate period), several desperate families have tried to walk home across vast distances and many have perished(died).
VIGIL AGAINST COVID-19:
Besides ensuring decent conditions for these workers and the education of their children, States must also prepare for the arrival of expatriate(working abroad) workers in large numbers from West Asia and elsewhere. These unprecedented pressures add to the need to maintain the highest vigil(watch) against COVID-19.
Unsurprisingly, the biggest cities, with a legacy of market-driven housing policies, unplanned densification(closely compacted), rampant(high) pollution and poor health-care access are red zones, with large infection clusters. Their decay is marked by the absence of usable commons, including pavements(footpath) in normally crowded localities, making it difficult to maintain distancing.
This is an appropriate moment to start repairing that damage. What the public must be told emphatically(forceful way) is that the relaxation of the lockdown is not a return to life as it existed before the coronavirus. It is a new reality, one that calls for safe, measured activity.
2) No comfort in numbers: On Bengal’s coronavirus cases-
West Bengal, which reported its first COVID-19 case in mid-March, has now recorded a total of 922 cases. The State has reported 48 deaths but had not counted 72 who died of comorbidities(illness).
Though it is India’s fourth populous State, it now ranks fourth lowest in terms of the number of those tested, and is also way lower than Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
Against a national average of 721 tests per million, West Bengal has a dismal 212.6 tests per million. But what is disturbing is the general reluctance(unwilling) of the government to ramp(increase) up testing and to acknowledge deaths from the disease as such. This comes as a surprise given its initial proactive stand on several fronts to tackle COVID-19.
It was the first State to move from containment(to stop) to mitigation(reducing) to contain the spread when it announced a complete lockdown before the Prime Minister announced it nationally. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was seen doing all the right things including demonstrating how social distancing is to be practised and setting up quarantine centres in every district.
While it is not clear if testing has improved, there is clearly a reluctance to divulge(open up) the true extent of spread of the virus. The hesitation is pronounced on the issue of sharing mortality(death) numbers.
HIGH FATALITY RATE:
At over 13%, the case fatality rate is very high in West Bengal while the detection rate continues to remain the same, which is a reflection of poor surveillance(examination) and a failure to actively look out for fresh cases. When surveillance is good and testing is ramped up, the number of cases reported is bound to increase, as was seen in Kerala, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, and even South Korea in particular.
As Kerala has demonstrated, early detection of cases and tracing of contacts, quarantining and testing will not only help in containing the spread but also markedly reduce the case fatality rate. Trying to keep the numbers artificially low by testing fewer people or not divulging the actual numbers and tracing their contacts allows the virus to spread unchecked.
At some point, poor surveillance and delay in testing will overwhelm(outnumber) the health system and result in even more deaths, something that no government would be proud of. A higher number of cases is only a reflection of how active the State has been in waging(fighting) a war against the virus, while a higher case fatality(death) rate serves as evidence of poor response.
With the lockdown now extended by two more weeks, the government should follow the advice of WHO and cover lost ground by aggressively testing and isolating cases, and tracing contacts.
Assembly polls next year should not be a reason for the Union and the State governments to politicise a public health issue that has been declared a pandemic.
The shame is not in detecting cases, but in hiding deaths caused by the virus.
3) BRICS against COVID-19-
The New Development Bank’s financial model can become a template to address natural disasters
In the global war against the novel coronavirus, emerging economies, many belonging to BRICS, have reached out to other countries humbled by the pandemic. India has reinforced(make strong) its credentials(merit) as a rapidly emerging pharmacy(shop or hospital dispensary where medicinal drugs are prepared or sold) of the world.
As the world’s largest producer of hydroxychloroquine, India has recently exported the drug not only to SAARC countries and to its “extended neighbourhood” in the Gulf, but also to Russia, Brazil, Israel and the U.S. This has set the stage for India to forge(form) an inclusive BRICS-driven pharma alliance, which could also actively explore the production of vaccines.
(BRICS is the acronym coined for an association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Originally the first four were grouped as "BRIC", before the induction of South Africa in 2010)
WORKSHOP OF THE WORLD:
Despite allegations(claims) that it had delayed sounding the alarm about COVID-19 infections that had broken out in Wuhan, China has, subsequently(followingly), responded strongly in containing the pandemic, leveraging(strengthing) its position as the workshop of the world.
Notwithstanding teething(serious) problems and quality concerns, China has steeled(made strong) the transcontinental(crossing a continent) response to the disease by providing the “hardware” — masks, gloves, coveralls, shoe covers and testing kits — to hotspots(risky areas) across the globe.
Under its Health Silk Road doctrine, the Chinese reached out to two of the worst global hotspots, Italy and Iran. A Chinese shipment of 31 tonnes, which included essential supplies and equipment, including respirators, protective suits, masks and medications, arrived on March 12 in Rome.
Six days later another Chinese team flew directly to Milan. Soon China was running a medical air bridge bound for Europe.
(Health Silk Road doctrine- https://www.forbes.com/sites/wadeshepard/2020/03/27/chinas-health-silk-road-gets-a-boost-from-covid-19/#613b762a6043 )
Despite fighting the virus at home, Russia too sent its doctors and virologists(one who studies virus) overseas, including the launch of the famous ‘From Russia with love’ air mission to Italy. At the request of U.S. President Donald Trump, a Russian Antonov-124, packed with medical supplies and experts, landed at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Since Soviet times, Russia has top-of-the-line emergency services, which are equipped to handle any kind of emergency including biological attacks, nuclear radiation, and chemical weapon attacks.
On the African continent, South Africa, the current rotating head of the African Union, is engaged in framing a pan-African response to COVID-19. Among the BRICS nations, only Brazil’s response may need a course correction, as its resistance to breaking the infection chains through travel bans, lockdowns, isolation and testing appears to have led to an infection surge(increase).
A TEMPLATE FOR THE FUTURE:
Having demonstrated their comparative strengths as providers of Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR), BRICS countries now need to pool(collect) and coordinate their efforts. They have to partner with the WHO, and Europe and North America, both badly affected by the pandemic, as part of a global assault(attack) on the virus.
But for seeding(cause (something) to begin to develop or grow) a robust institutional HADR response, the BRICS countries may have to reactivate an existing disaster response mechanism, and earmark(allot) resources and assets to combat(fight) a whole range of natural disasters, with special focus on the emerging economies and the global south.
NEW DEVELOPMENT BANK:
The Shanghai-based New Development Bank of the BRICS countries has already demonstrated the way forward to allocate financial resources to combat COVID-19. In April, during a meeting of the NDB Board of Governors, NBD President K.V. Kamath announced that apart from disbursing a $1 billion emergency loan to China, and subsequently to India, South Africa and Brazil, the NDB had the financial heft(might) to provide $10 billion in “crisis-related assistance” to BRICS member countries.
The NDB’s financial model, demonstrated to address the pandemic, can now become a template(model) to address natural disasters.
(The New Development Bank, formerly referred to as the BRICS Development Bank, is a multilateral development bank established by the BRICS states. According to the Agreement on the NDB, "the Bank shall support public or private projects through loans, guarantees, equity participation and other financial instruments.")