FPJ Edit: Covid in India and China - a study in contrast

The origin of coronavirus will remain a mystery as there are powerful, vested interests to keep it so. US President Joe Biden has asked his intelligence agencies to probe the origin of the pandemic and report to him within 90 days. Many Western scientists, including US infectious diseases expert Dr Anthony Fauci, have concluded that the virus was not a natural phenomenon. They point an accusing finger at China, where an accident could have happened, leading to the spread of the virus.

What lends credence to the theory is that coronavirus had its first victims at the Hunan seafood market in central China’s Wuhan city, where the Wuhan Institute of Virology is located. Former US President Donald Trump is happy that his successor, too, is convinced about China’s culpability. China has rubbished such reports, claiming that these are no better than conspiracy theories. It wants all the virology institutes in the US to be opened for examination by the scientific community.

Given this backdrop, the world will never know for sure how the virus originated and spread so quickly, leaving 3.5 million dead and 168 million affected the world over. No other disease in the past had spread so fast and brought life to a standstill. More importantly, nobody is sure whether there will be many waves of the pandemic before every country is declared Covid-19-free.

What nobody, including the Chinese, disputes is that coronavirus first raised its ugly head in Wuhan. China took its own time to announce the arrival of the disease but ultimately, it notified the world. It could not have withheld the information, given the rapid manner in which the virus reached country after country. What is noteworthy is that China has so far recorded only 91,099 cases, with 4,636 deaths and 86,135 recoveries. By any yardstick, the figures are commendable and would do the Chinese proud.

The Chinese tendency to keep such reports under wraps is too well-known to need recapitulation. After all, it is an autocratic state, where the freedom of the press is simply non-existent. Even so, reports from China do not suggest that the situation there is as serious as in India. A few days ago, it cancelled some flights from Shanghai. It can, therefore, be surmised that coronavirus remains active in some areas in China. What needs to be known is how a country like China, which has a larger population than India, was able to control Covid-19. When India attained Independence and China became a Communist nation, the two countries had more or less similar socio-economic conditions. In no time, it overtook India to eventually become the world’s second largest economy and the factory of the world.

On December 31, 2019, China recorded its first case of Covid-19. Less than a month later, on January 27, 2020, India recorded its first case when a patient at Thrissur in Kerala tested Covid-19-positive. Unlike China, India has recorded a disproportionately larger, 28 million Covid cases, with 3,29,000 deaths. India was the first to declare a nationwide lockdown. Why did India fail where China succeeded gloriously? China was the first to introduce the concept of containment zones to segregate the victims. The idea was to minimise the chances of infection, even as the country used all its resources to develop a vaccine. It cannot be said that India’s efforts to contain the pandemic a year ago were all in vain. True, the lockdown caused enormous problems to the working class, especially migrant labour. Yet, there was no protest because the people cooperated with the government.

Progress was also made on developing vaccines and India earned considerable goodwill by exporting vaccines to even developed nations. Rightly or wrongly, an impression had gained ground that coronavirus had been defeated. Then the guard fell. When leaders who should have been worrying about the second wave of Covid-19 that health experts had predicted, found themselves busy crisscrossing the country to address massive election rallies, the safe-distancing norms went for a toss. And to add to it, religious jamborees were advanced, even as hospital capacities remained static and targets of production of oxygen and ventilators remained unattended. So, when the second wave hit state after state, the Central and state governments were at sixes and sevens. As a result, deaths began to multiply, with the pandemic spreading to villages and ruining the economy. Is it any wonder that India is far behind China in meeting the challenge of coronavirus?

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