TWO MONTHS FROM NOW, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hoist the Tricolor from the Red Fort and address the nation on Independence Day, August 15, India will have 18.5 lakh coronavirus positive cases every day. Yes, EVERY DAY.
It is an estimate shared by the Cabinet Secretary of India, Rajiv Gauba, with the health secretaries of various states and union territories of India.
The numbers will shock everyone — those who have been looking forward to reopening the economy, school managements eager to see children in classes, parents worried about the education loss their kids are suffering, shopkeepers who are grateful that normal crowds are returning to the markets, gym owners eagerly looking forward to reopen, hotels and malls making preparations for Unlock 2.0 very soon.
But 15 August is too far away. You will be scared enough to know the numbers in the next few days. Remember that all these numbers were shared officially by the Cabinet Secretary Gauba with state/UT health secretaries in a meeting on April 26, the same day the Prime Minister held a video conference with all the chief ministers or their representatives.
But first, the numbers.
June 7 was a particularly solemn day to bring you the numbers, as the number of those dying from Covid-19 worldwide crossed 400,000, and the number of confirmed infections touched 7 million.
On Saturday morning, June 6, the Union Ministry of Health and Welfare put the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in India at 2,36,657. Saturday, June 6, registered a record single-day spike of 9,887 cases while 6,642 people had died by that morning, 8 am. Sunday, June 7, saw covid-19 death toll at 6,929 while total infections crossed 2,46,628 cases, making India the fifth most severely hit country in the world.
Official estimates shared by the Centre with states reveal that on June 15, the number of corona virus positive cases will be 3,95,727 while India will see 22,400 new cases every day.
Similarly, on June 30, the total cases will be 11,22,839 while new cases per day will be 75,415.
On July 15, India will see 2,13,982 new cases per day and the total number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 will be 31,85,952.
On July 31, total cases will be just under a One Crore. To be precise, the doubling model projected the case count as 96,90,715, with 6,50,869 new cases added per day.
On August 15, India's total cases will be 2,74,96,513, that is a quarter shy of three crore. On this Independence Day, the country will see 18,46,781 patients being confirmed as crona positive new cases every day.
Yes, the data will shock you. Since it was shared with state authorities across India, why has it not shocked you all this while, considering it was revealed on April 26 itself?
Because governments, cacophonous media and shifting attention spans can confuse you no end, and our proclivity to turn at the windmills rather than pause at something truly substantive is by now legendary. After all, we are a people who are told that three siblings sitting in a row in an aircraft cannot sit in the car driven by their mother because that will spread the virus. Or that the virus travels from Delhi to Haryana for a certain phase, but then has to be stopped when it travels from Haryana to Delhi. And we gulp it all!
Here is what hogged the media headlines when the top bureaucrat of the country shared the shocking data with officials tasked to take care of the nation's public health:
A chart presented by Dr VK Paul on April 24 predicting the trend of Covid-19 cases in India. (Source - Ministry of Health & Family Welfare)
Two days before Cabinet Secretary Gauba informed various state officials that India will cross 165,000 confirmed coronavirus cases stage on May 31, the Union Government presented a chart on April 24 predicting that India will have ZERO new daily case by May 16.
Dr V K Paul, an influential member of the Niti Aayog and the brain behind Ayushman Bharat, presented detailed graphics and charts to claim that India will start flattening the curve in early May. This was on April 24.
On April 26, the Cabinet Secretary said India will have 165,000 cases on May 31.
In reality, India had 165,799 cases on May 29 itself.
(The Government of India's daily figures pertain to 24-hour period from 8 am to 8 am. So, data for June 6 means data from 8 am June 5 to 8 am June 6.)
Now, VK Paul is not a man to be taken lightly. He heads the Centre's Empowered Group-1, responsible for coordinating medical emergency management plan as the country tackles Covid-19.
On May 16, the day VK Paul informed the country, with the help of graphs and slides, that there will be ZERO cases in India, we actually saw 4,987 cases, the highest single-day spike till then, while the total number of cases that day was 90,648 while 4,864 cases had come in just that day.
Agar na karte lockdown
When VK Paul's zero cases date of May 16 came and went, some journalists touched base with him, and the Niti Aayog planner said it was all a "misinterpretation”.
"No one has ever said that the number of cases would go down to zero at a particular date, there is a misunderstanding, which needs to be corrected. For the misunderstanding, I feel sorry and apologise,” he said.
It is possible VK Paul's words were "misinterpreted" and we will come to that soon. In fact, as is the wont with most senior bureaucrats and politicians, Paul's real burden that day was to hail the Lock Down decision of his boss Narendra Modi.
When the Press Information Bureau of India (PIB) tweeted Dr VK Paul's graph immediately after his press conference, it said: "Decision of lockdown was timely, curve has begun to flatten. The nation has shown that lockdown has been effective (in) saving lives, containing Covid-19 infection and slowing down doubling rate."
His exact words on April 24? Sample this:
"Please ye le kar chaliye ki hamare desh main jo picture hum aapke saamne la rahe hain, yahi picture Covid-19 ki by and large hai. Koi undercurrent nahi hai ki (Covid-19) faila hua hai...ki pata hi nahi hai...Ye le kar chaliye ki bilkul aisa nahi hai. Baki datasets bhi yahi dikhate hain (Please trust that the data that is released by the government by and large reflects the true picture of Covid-19 in India. There is no undercurrent and it would be wrong to assume that Covid-19 is widespread in India)."
The lockdown wah wah April 24 by VK Paul
So, on April 24, this Niti Aayog member handpicked by Narendra Modi was claiming that the virus was not widespread in India. On April 26, the Cabinet Secretary of India was telling health secretaries that there will be 22,400 new cases per day on June 15, and 75,415 new cases per day on June 30, and 2,13,982 new cases per day on July 15 and 6,50,869 new cases per day on July 31.
And that we will celebrate our Independence Day with 18,46,781 new confirmed cases of coronavirus that day.
Why has the Indian media, with few honourable exceptions, not forcefully asked the Indian government and the Niti Aayog to share with the public the logic and methodology that went behind the claim that the pandemic will subside by May? What were those decisions that they took which, for some possibly very understandable reason, did not work?
It was lovely to hear Dr VK Paul's reassuring voice as the graphics beamed from the screen in that darkened room:
"Hum ek bahut hi effective aur jordaar tareeke se Covid-19 ko control karne main successful ho gaye hain." This was April 24.
BUT WHO WILL ASK THESE QUESTIONS?
When you thought all branches of the government were in an overdrive to devise measures and ramp up infrastructure, setting in place protocols and sharing the truth with the people, the actual effort was actually being spent on controlling the narrative, not the spread of virus.
On April 9, India's Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) claimed that but for the lockdown, the country would have had 8.2 lakh Covid-19 cases by April 15. This claim was based on some study by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). No one from the ICMR spoke, briefed or tweeted anything about the study. A day later, the face of All Knowledge About Pandemic in India, Joint Secretary (Health) Lav Agarwal, said ICMR has not conducted any such study. The media thought there was no reason to ask any further questions about ICMR studies quoted by Govt of India's federal ministries vanishing into thin air at the drop of a question.
Twenty-four hours still later, the ICMR study came back into existence. The same Lav Agarwal, repository of all information and evasive tactics, said the 8.2 lakh figure was quoted by the MEA and was based on an internal assessment of his own Health Ministry, a fact he clearly did not know a few hours earlier. Later, his Health Ministry even tweeted the 8.2 lakh claim!
The ICMR has not spoken till date about this 8.2 lakh study. It did not ask the MEA why it was dragged into the row. In fact, the ICMR did not even remind anyone that an earlier study it had carried out had put the number of symptomatic cases at about 10 million in Delhi and 4 million in Mumbai, peaking in mid-March. This wasn’t a non-existent ICMR study like the one quoted by the MEA; the ICMR had actually published this mathematical modelling study, titled "Prudent public health intervention strategies to control the coronavirus disease transmission in India: A mathematical model-based approach.”
Based on the SEIR (Susceptible-Exposed-Infectious-Recovered ) model, capturing the natural history of Covid-19 and its transmission dynamics, this study was jointly done by Translational Global Health Policy Research Cell (Department of Health Research), ICMR’s Division of Epidemiology & Communicable Diseases, School of Public Health, National Institute of Epidemiology, Chennai and Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, School of Public Health, Imperial College, St Mary’s Hospital, London.
Meanwhile, the Centre For Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP), with offices in Washington DC and New Delhi, came up with its own model for India and claimed that "community transmission of COVID-19 in India most likely started in early March."
CDDEP STUDY - Predicted Total Infections - Asymptomatic + Hospitalised + Symptomatic
It claimed that "at baseline (without interventions), between 300 and 400 million Indians are likely to be infected by July. Most of these cases will be mild. At the peak (somewhere between April and May 2020), 100 million individuals will be infected. Of these, approximately 10 million will be severe and about 2-4 million will require hospitalization."
The CDDEP called it "the most critical period" and stressed the "need for large, temporary hospitals to handle this patient load over the next three-month period."
It also warned that "secondary, hospital-based transmission fuels the epidemic" and reminded that the available ICU- and ventilator-equipped bed capacity in India was "wholly inadequate to the number of infections at epidemic peak."
Current capacity is estimated at 30-50K ventilators nationwide and about 70-100K ICU beds, but then data in India is always to be taken with a healthy dose of cynicism.
BUT HOW MANY PEOPLE WILL ESCAPE THE COVID-19 DATA NOW?
Here comes the catch now as we start moving towards the mid-June mark. The government in India's national capital has openly announced that it will not count Coronavirus Positive people as Corona-affected. It actually fielded its Chief Minister, a man called Arvind Kejriwal, to announce this on live television. He actually issued advertisements to say the same thing. But the Indian Media has no objection to it.
Kejriwal, and we believe other chief ministers, states, and most likely the federal government, will also follow suit. INDIA IS NOW OFFICIALLY PREPARED TO CONTAMINATE DATA. Here is how this will be done:
In advertisement after advertisement, Kejriwal is telling people that if anyone finds himself/herself a risk candidate for coronavirus, but is asymptomatic, then he or she should not try to reach out to a doctor and land up at any hospital. In fact, such a person should not even try to get tested. The government's recommendation is to self-quarantine oneself, stay at home, ride it out. There is no obligation on anyone to report the case anywhere.
And not only are those who are asymptomatic are supposed to not go in for a test and to confine themselves at home, but even those with mild symptoms should follow the same course. In the days of widespread pandemic, you have some fever, some cough, some headache, the food is not tasting good, and you think you have gotten coronavirus and you know that the fellow working next to you in the office for long hours has been found corona positive, DO NOT GO TO A DOCTOR, DO NOT SEEK TO BE TESTED, DO NOT LAND UP AT A HOSPITAL.
Stay at home. Take care. Ask your family to serve you food from a distance. Wear a mask. Wash your hands frequently. Only if it worsens should you seek to be tested, or land up at a hospital. And how easy it is to find a hospital bed, and how easier still it is to find one with oxygen and how it is easiest to find one equipped with a ventilator, you already know too well.
Now, all these self-diagnosed patients with corona-like symptoms, likely to be corona symptoms, or with corona virus but asymptomatic and never tested, will NOT FIGURE IN ANY DATA SET.
Of what value will then be the data of corona-virus positive cases given out by the Government of India? How will you know how many cases India will have on August 15 when the Prime Minister climbs the steps to hoist the Tricolor at the Red Fort and addresses the nation from the ramparts of the fort built by a member of the dynasty that is probably the most hated by legions of BJP cadre?
"80 परसेंट से ज़यादा मामलों में करोना वायरस के मरीज़ को या तो कोई लक्षण नहीं होते या बहुत मामूली लक्षण होते हैं। ऐसे लोगों को अस्पताल में भरती होने की बिल्कुल ज़रुरत नहीं है। आप अपने घर में रह के अपनी देखभाल कर सकते हैं। घर में रह के क्या क्या करना है, क्या क्या एहतिआत बरतनी हैं, इसके लिए हम ने यह वीडियो बनाया है” (80 per cent se zayada mamlon mein corona virus ke patient ko ya to koyee symptoms nahi hote ya bahut mamooli symptoms hote hain! Aise logon ko hasptal mein bharti hone ki bilkul zaroorat nahi hai. Aap apne ghar mein reh ke apni dekhbhal kar sakte hain. Ghar mein reh ke kya kya karna hai, kya kya ehtiyat bartni hain, is ke liye hum ne yeh video banaya hai),” Kejriwal tells people several times in the course of a day in an advertisement paid for by the people. He tells them not to go to the hospital. His ministers are raiding labs testing asymptomatic patients. His alleged bête noire, the BJP government at the Centre, has stopped attacking him for asking suspected patients of Covid-19 not to get themselves tested. So, 80 per cent patients are being told not to get themselves tested, and you are asked to believe the government data of daily cases and total cases. Or deaths in a day.
Mind you, that you will be considered dead due to Covid-19 if the virus is the primary cause of your death. If you have a heart attack and doctors find you Covid-19 positive, and you have to wait for your angioplasty and your condition worsens and you die, the data will show that the primary reason of your death was coronary heart failure and secondary reason was Covid-19. You will not figure in the data of people dying due to the virus. So much for data sanctity.
So far, the only consistent pattern is the phrase HIGHEST RECORD SPIKE IN A DAY that you read about every single day in the newspaper. Stop testing, stay home, close the door and do not get tested. Be a good citizen. Do not get counted in the corona-struck data, and we will soon have ZERO CASE OF CORONA in India. We can even reach this figure by August 15. Just do not visit a cremation ground or a burial site. Otherwise you will get a vaccine of Shamshan - Kabristan dose. We invented it a long time ago.
बस एक बात का ख्याल रखना - घबराना नहीं है। This was Kejriwal, wrapping up his video. Hope you are not worried. अब तो राम लल्ला का मन्दिर भी बन रहा है, और केजरीवाल ने उस पर कोई हील-हुज्जत भी नहीं की। That old blue Wagon R has long been sold, and he does not plan to go check the state of development and healthcare facilities in Gujarat, or Varanasi for that matter. The Centre is now cooperating so much with AAP government. "हम को लोगों ने दिल्ली वासियों की सेवा के लिए चुना है।” And we will seal the city lest people from other states want to approach AIIMS, Ganga Ram or other hospitals. And why are you not at home, by the way?
(*The author is a Chandigarh-based senior journalist, columnist and television anchor, with interests spanning politics, academics, arts, and yes, even trivia.)
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