Ours is to question why

Behaviour change is often the best solution, whatever the problem. Especially when the behaviour to be changed belongs to someone else.

In the wake of the steep rise in active Covid-19 cases during the second wave, there has been no shortage of advice on behavioural changes other people needed to make to ensure the whole world was safe.

“I want my courier deliveries to be accepted by the security guard at the reception and not come up to my apartment.”

Of course, I cannot stop ordering delivery service. I have some rights, do I not? Are you telling me even security guards can get infected?

“Can people please ensure that their children are wearing a mask when they go to the playground so that my children don’t catch Covid from them.”

Why should they stay at home to stay safe? Don’t we contribute to the maintenance of the playground?

“I suggest the management committee declare a voluntary shutdown so that all of us stop going and coming as we please.”

Why should I stop voluntarily when my neighbour is still going to work? Isn’t that unfair? Only when he stops will I stop.

Of course, as usual, I exaggerate. I suppose one should also not read too much into these statements and reactions. There is fear. There is uncertainty about what might happen next. Living through a pandemic is a first for all of us. No doubt there is good intent in these statements. For all I know, the solution may lie hidden in these suggestions.

Just when people had started to think about partying and travelling, the surge of infections has played party pooper. The medical infrastructure has been caught off guard with the speed and scale of the surge.

Maybe it is just me, but I find myself struggling with answers even as I see vaccinated folks, who, just a few weeks back, were promoting vaccines as the final solution and encouraging others to go in for it, equally stressed and fearful of catching the virus. When pushed for an answer, the standard reply seems to be, “Nobody is safe.”

In the post titled ‘One FLU over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ published on 30th November, a little over the halfway mark between the onset of the pandemic and now, I had posed some questions on my mind at that time, more to do with Covid-19 as another form of influenza. I am happy to say that I have got no answer to any of those questions. What’s more, I now have even more questions! Without further ado then…

  1. Is it true that every person will fall in one (and only one) of these 5 categories?

A. I am currently infected and have symptoms

B. I am currently infected and am asymptomatic

C. I have previously been infected and have antibodies

D. I have previously been infected and no longer have antibodies

E. I have never been infected

where A+B+C+D+E = 100%

2. What is the best guess at the approximate current number (percentage) in each of these 5 categories?

3. If I am infected but asymptomatic I have no risk from the infection to my own self as I am already infected. Is that correct? Of course, I can infect others.

4. The infection can further spread only in categories D and E. Is that correct?

5. People who get infected can be expected to be in a symptomatic to non-symptomatic ratio as per the population ratio. If today 80 are asymptomatic out of 100, the next 100 people to be infected can also be expected to have around 80 who are asymptomatic. Is that correct?

With the vaccination drive now on, people from all the 5 categories are being vaccinated, whether they have antibodies or not. We know that. The number of susceptible people in D and E will gradually reduce as the coverage of the vaccination increases. That is a reasonable assumption to make I believe.

Vaccinations started at least two months back now. Perhaps it is time to get some data around their performance. There are many who question the need for the vaccine, including me. If there is data that settles the issue why not put it out?

6. Out of every 100 vaccinated people, what percentage got infected, with or without symptoms?

7. How does that percentage compare with the infection percentage for non-vaccinated people?

8. The benefit of the vaccine has been understood (at least by me) to be that the virulence of the infection will be much lesser, as an explanation for the 70% and 88% effectiveness of different brands. Do we now have data on the vaccinated vs. non-vaccinated virulence?

An ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) survey published in February concluded that 21.5 per cent of India’s population showed the presence of antibodies for the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). A Delhi government survey around the same time had established the seropositivity rate at 56%. There is a wide variance between the two numbers. If the percentage is indeed 56%, it would mean that despite our best efforts most people got infected without realizing that they had been. So, what is the point in following prevention protocols that do not prevent?

9. Before we reach a conclusion, should a wider survey be done to establish the prevalence?

While many of the questions are for a better understanding of the situation, there are some incipient suggestions in there as well. For example, going back to the categories in question 1, would it not be better to complete vaccination of people in D and E categories before moving to A, B and C?

And lastly, what about these mutations of the virus?

10. Does the vaccine cover these mutations or will we be developing a new vaccine every year, to prevent the popular version of last year while this year’s version will be prevented by a vaccine next year by when it would have died out a natural death and made way for a new version?

I know the answer to this one. “We don’t know what will happen in the future.”

Not one to waste a good crisis, the Delhi High Court has promised to hang the people responsible for preventing oxygen from reaching patients, as liberally provided in the Constitution, while upgrading the ‘wave’ to a ‘tsunami’ resulting in no change to the response from any government agency.

With apologies to Lord Alfred Tennyson for mixing up his words in the title.

Positive Spin

Covid-19 is a cute little virus. And playful too. It likes to jump. It jumps from one person to another. I think it likes to play games with us because sometimes it jumps and sometimes it does not. Perhaps it wants to play a guessing game with us.

Because of Covid-19 children don’t need to go to school any more. They can pretend to study from home. Some can’t do that as they cannot afford the devices and bandwidth needed for online studies. These children can play all the time. So wonderful.

There are so many nice people who are getting salaries without having to do much work. And there are so many nice companies that have perhaps saved much money by retrenching staff they did not need.

It has brought many families back together since migrant workers, after retrenchment, had to go to the place they hail from.

So many people have become rich. The soap and sanitiser makers. The mask makers. The infrared thermometer makers. The hospitals. The foot sanitiser makers. The bandwidth providers. The virtual application makers. The personal vehicle makers. The software makers. So many people have also become rich by not buying things they did not need.

It has allowed interested individuals to beat pots and pans along with the Indian PM for a wonderful purpose explained by the PM and understood by these people that others could not. When has the common man ever got the opportunity of beating pots and pans along with their PM? And Corona made it possible.

It even made it possible for people in Delhi to breathe, even if it was only for a few days. But I will not focus too much on this aspect because it had an unintended negative fallout of indoor air purifier sales falling during that period.

The metro ride in Delhi is now so comfortable since only a few people are riding.

So many people have become knowledgeable and popular overnight and are now followed by thousands, in India’s case millions, of others. People who say that we will all die if we move an inch or take a breath. People who say this is a farce and nothing will happen as long as we behave sensibly. People who say that only cures based on ancient wisdom of a culture with a proud history that only they know about will work. People who say that only cures based on modern medicine will work. People who provide instant cures for conditions like low immunity that treatment of tens of years has not been able to fix. And, above all, positive people willing to believe anything and everything while giving a complete rest to their grey cells!

Thank you Covid-19. Thank you Corona.

How is that for some positivity at the start of the year? Or even day? Or hour?

“Why are you always so negative?” “Why can’t you be more positive?” I hear these remarks ever so often. Because of what I write. Because of what I say. Because of, I guess, how I think. And, in fairness to myself, it always sets me thinking.

Now I have decided to act.

Earlier, I might have said, “How is that for some positivity in a year that is seven days old?” No longer. Old? Smells negative, doesn’t it?

It puts historical events in perspective.

Mahatma Gandhi was being negative when he led the Dandi March opposing the unilateral imposition of taxes on salt, He should, instead, have sent a Thank You card to the British authorities for their wonderful thoughtlessness in trying to enrich themselves at the cost of others.

What about Hitler? Who would dare to call him evil and risk the ignominy of being termed ‘negative.’ Wasn’t he the guy with the cute moustache who devised unique reasons and ingenious methods for murdering human beings?

I am beginning to get it. And enjoy it.

Thugs of Hindostan was a great movie. It just did not get viewers because people did not like it. But it was a great movie. Even if nobody believes me. It was still a great movie.

The national football team of an unnamed country is a great team. It makes its opponents feel good and happy after each game.

I can now see positivity everywhere. Even the daily newspaper I read has a section where celebrities give out positive messages like “focus your energy in bettering your life” and “stay happy always” and “don’t let negativity get you down.” Not once in a while but every day. Who would have known such things otherwise?

Reminds me of the Extrovert and introvert equation. The way it is always introduced in a conversation by a self-proclaimed extrovert only for the purpose of proclaiming himself to be an extrovert and, by extension, a gift to society, and the ‘talkee,’ me in these cases since I am recounting the experience, as the introvert and therefore a lesser human and a burden on society. Of course, I have been a witness to exchanges where the ‘talkee’ has talked himself blue in trying to contend that he was, in fact, an extrovert. The exchanges, at some point got so evolved that whenever two people met, there was a healthy battle of wits to be the first to introduce the term extrovert or introvert into the conversation so that the introducer could paint himself as the rockstar extrovert and the introducee as the introvert who needed to be pitied and helped. The roles kept changing with each meeting.

There are obviously no shades. Extrovert or Introvert. Positive or Negative.

Wonder if my condition will last long? Wonder if it is contagious?

One FLU over the Cuckoo’s Nest

The website of India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MHFW) gives us the lowdown on the status of Covid-19 in the country, in numbers. The status on the morning of 30th November is:

Active cases4,53,956
Recovered cases88,02,267
Died1,36,696
Reported93,92,919
Tests done13,95,03, 803
Population (inserted by me)1,35,26,00,000

Numbers often do not leave room for doubt. Everything else seems to.

Of course we know:

  • This data would include tests initiated by an individual as well as tests done as part of random testing and sero surveys or as part of some regulation, like asking air travellers to produce a negative certificate before boarding. It is possible that self-initiated tests have a higher incidence of positive cases, but that cannot be established from this data.
  • Cases reported as positive include asymptomatic ones as well. The person would have gone about normal life without feeling any difference till told he was a ‘case.’
  • There could be many untested cases that could not be established as Covid-19 cases. Even deaths. Though the government did put in a protocol of testing dead bodies for Covid-19.
  • While the cases and deaths and recoveries are all person specific, and should not have any double counting, it is possible some people have been tested more than once. Elon Musk apparently had 4 tests in one day with the verdict of him being infected split right down the middle. Thankfully Mr. Musk is not part of the numbers on the MHFW website.

So?

For one, Covid-19 has broadened our daily-use vocabulary. Who used, or had even heard of, social distancing or quarantine or self-quarantine or community spread or flatten the curve or contact tracing or super spreader or antibodies or asymptomatic or case fatality rate or herd immunity or incubation period or PPE or shelter in place or ventilator. Rarely, if ever, have so many words been added to the common man’s vocabulary in one year.

The government has been able to make guidelines and rules. Unopposed. For once, they have been encouraged, nay forced to.

  • Guidelines for international arrivals. Then revised guidelines for international arrivals.
  • Standard Operating Procedure for passenger movement post embarkation.
  • Travel Advisory. Additional Travel Advisory. Another additional travel advisory.
  • Guidelines for workplaces. Then updated guidelines for workplaces.
  • Guidelines on containment of local transmission.

So?

Hmmm. Not quite sure.

Before going deeper, let me state clearly that I am not a doctor. I probably won’t even know my Femur from my Tibia, assuming the body still has bones by these names, that I picked up in Biology class in school many moons back.

I am trying to make sense of the paranoia surrounding Covid-19, instead of playing dead and blindly following the blind. The blind who make loud noises to hide their blindness.

Have an ache, pop a pill.

Have a sniffle, pop a pill.

Have a reaction to a pill, pop a pill.

Unable to fight the next illness because it is now dependent on pills…you know the answer.

Of course, the rest of the world should do the same. Else they are irresponsible.

With the government, and big business, happily complying and salivating at the prospect of total control over the lives of people. Who you are. Where you live. What you ate today. Where you went today afternoon. Sorry, you cannot board that flight because the last vaccine shot was on Tuesday, 5th May, more than six months back.

You asked for protection, did you not?

Comfortingly, one of the vaccines mankind has set its hopes on has shown success rates of 90% apparently through a dosage combination arrived at scientifically as the result of an accident.

And all vaccines, at least from a lay person’s perspective, are aiming at a moving target, as apparently the virus keeps mutating while jumping from one human to another. So, the shot you eventually get might be effectively protecting you against a virus that was there last year. I think it has a 100% chance of success against a virus no longer there.

The data shared earlier is for a period of 9 months, give or take, since the, issue, started around end February and we have almost rounded off November.

I have annualised the data to make it more easy to understand and compare, since historical data is not normally be maintained for 9 months and 11 days or any such odd period. If 100 people have contracted Covid in 9 months, assuming the same rate of infection, for the full year, the number would be 100×12/9 = 133.

The annualised data now looks like:

Active cases6,05,274
Recovered cases1,17,36,356
Died1,82,261
Reported1,25,23,892
Tests done18,60,05,070
Population (inserted by me, probably increased since then)1,35,26,00,000

In a year, less than 1% of the population would be infected with Covid-19, and 0.0139% of the population will die. In other words, 0.139 people in a thousand or 139 people in a million will die of Covid-19. Based on 1,81,600 projected Covid-19 deaths in a year.

How does this compare with other causes of death in India?

178832 (1.78 lac) people are killed in road accidents in a year

15.4 lacs on account of Heart disease

7.2 lacs due to Diarrhoeal disease

5.1 because of Respiratory system issue

4.5 lacs owing to Tuberculosis (TB)

2.5 lacs caused by Diabetes

This is based on a study published in the Times of India in March 2020.

As many people die of heart diseases in India daily, as do people of Corona in the whole world.

But comparisons are odious. Of the above, only TB is communicable.

What should we compare with, if at all? What about influenza, the flu? The common flu. Which seems to be the closest cousin of Covid-19. Everyone in India gets it. Many get it multiple times a year perhaps.

Why don’t we have a comparison of Covid-19 with the common flu? We have many articles and reports and opinions, but little ‘data.’

Maybe because common flu is just that, common. According to the Centers for Diseas Control and Prevention (CDC) of the US, “each death due to influenza in the U.S. does not have to be reported, so there is never a direct count…Conversely, each death due to COVID-19 is being recorded.” In India, even testing the dead for the infection.

So, how does one get perspective? Should one bother about perspective? As they say, perspective is not popular at the best of times.

No answers. All I have is questions.

If two groups are constructed of a million people each, with a comparable distribution of age, precondition, etc., and exposed, one group of one million people to Covid-19 and the other to seasonal flu, in each group:

A. How many will not contract the virus?

B. How many will contract without symptoms?

C. How many will contract with symptoms?

D. How many in each of the three categories above will die?

E. People in which of the categories above, A, B and C, will be transmitters? For what duration?

G. If category A did not contract the virus, can they be considered to be immune? For how long?

H. Will people in categories B and C become immune as a result? For how long?

On to the vaccine now. The one with a 90% success rate.

It now seems increasingly apparent that everyone will need to take the vaccine.

Like to eat out? Have you taken the shot?

Fly to Mumbai? Taken the shot?

Attend college? Taken the shot?

Ride the metro? Taken the shot?

Without a vaccine, in a million people, 9590 get infected, and 990410 don’t. And 139 die.

After the vaccine is given to all million, whether they want it or not, and possibly lowering their immunity a notch for future mutations, at the 90% rate of success, 900,000 will be immune and 100,000 will not be. Which 100,000 we don’t know.

Out of these 100,000, 959 will get infected, and 13.9 will die. Which 13.9 we don’t know.

So?

EconoMix

People are no longer buying things they don’t need. And that is apparently bad news for the world.

I have always been awed, and perplexed, by the working of the great Economic brains of the world. How they always seem to know what will happen after it has happened. And how, mostly either through a Rate Cut, or Rate Increase, they can solve the most internecine problems plaguing our world.

But how does it work? In order to not further tax the already busy brains of the Economists who are probably working out how they already knew about the impact of the Corona pandemic, and to decide whether it should be a Rate Cut this time or a Rate Increase, I decided to work it out for myself.

Let us take the example of the travel industry, one of the industries often cited as an example of being deeply impacted. As we are not travelling, they must be going through a torrid time. Airlines and hotels must be losing money because travellers, the people who would be paying them for their services, are not paying them. In short, because travellers are not coughing up money, airlines and hotels are getting poorer.

If they are getting poorer because travellers are not spending money, then travellers, who are not spending the money they would normally have, much be getting richer.

Makes sense?

Some of these travellers getting richer could be the people who run small businesses. Like restaurants. In Japan.

But people who run small businesses like restaurants are losing money because they have to shut down, and customers cannot come to them and buy their services. In other words, they are getting poorer.

If they are becoming poorer because customers are not coming and buying their services, then the customers who would have come to them must be getting richer because they are not spending that money.

Some of these customers getting richer could be makers of protective face masks. In Kenya.

Makers of protective masks are making money because there is huge demand for these masks. They just cannot make them fast enough. Hence, they are getting richer.

People buying these masks are becoming poorer as they now have to pay for an item that was not budgeted in their original scheme of things.

Some of these people becoming poorer could be employees of a software company. In Mexico.

On account of uncertain business outlook, the software company that employs them has offered a choice of retrenchment or pay cuts to employees. Hence employees are becoming poorer still.

If there are fewer employees and they are being paid lesser, and are becoming poorer as a result, then the employer, because it is spending less money, must be getting richer.

At the same time, the software company getting richer is seeing its carefully built business crumbling. The investment in creating a sales pipeline seems to be wasted as clients are unwilling to place new orders and even cancelling existing ones. If orders are not coming through and existing ones are being cancelled, it will gradually become poorer.

As clients of this software company are not paying money for new orders and saving money on placed orders, they must be getting richer.

Some of these clients getting richer could be mid-size garment manufacturing units. In India.

Mid-size, or any size, garment manufacturing units are seeing a steep decline in orders and are losing money because of that. Not only are they not getting orders, they have to keep paying salaries which is what the government has mandated. As is the business of governments in free markets to do. Mandate. Hence, they are becoming poorer twice as fast.

If they are becoming poorer because customers are not placing fresh orders and buying their garments, then the customers who are not placing fresh orders must be getting richer because they are not spending that money.

Some of these clients cancelling orders and getting richer could be retail clothing stores in Europe.

Retail clothing stores are losing money because footfalls have totally dried up on account of the lockdown and people are restricting purchases to essential items. Hence clothing stores are getting poorer.

Customers who are restricting purchases to essential items are paying lesser for clothing items and hence getting richer by saving money they would otherwise have spent on clothing.

Some of these customers getting richer could be people working for online platforms that facilitate video meetings and interaction over the Internet. In Canada.

They have been offered overtime pay and bonuses because their employer’s business is booming. Hence they are getting richer still.

Their employers, the businesses that own and run these online platforms, must be getting poorer as they are paying more to employees than was budgeted.

Online platforms that facilitate video interaction over the Internet getting poorer are experiencing a surge in demand and cannot seem to be expanding fast enough to keep up with it. Their revenues have seen a spike and they are getting richer.

People buying these services are becoming poorer as they now have to pay for an item that was not budgeted in their original scheme of things.

Some of these people getting poorer could be farmers growing food for the teeming millions. In Brazil.

Farmers are continuing to grow and sell food as people need to eat. They are neither getting richer nor poorer as people continue to buy food and eat. If anything, they could be getting marginally richer as the focus on buying and consuming food is now much higher than just a few weeks back.

People buying and consuming food would be getting neither richer nor poorer as they continue to buy and consume food like they have always done. If anything, they could be getting marginally richer as the more expensive eating-out options are not available at the moment. Not only that, they could experience an unforeseen improvement in health as the home-made food being consumed these days might be healthier.

Some of these customers getting neither richer nor poorer could be employees of a large corporation that operates an airline. Because there is no demand for travel, the airline has sacked a large number of staff. Without jobs, these staff members are getting poorer.

The airline that employs them must be getting richer as it no longer is paying what it had expected to pay in the form of salaries.

But we already learnt at the start that the airline is getting poorer because nobody is travelling and their capacity lies unutilised.

Clear? As mud? Or, using an Indianism, ‘as a jalebi?’

Are we getting richer and poorer at the same time? Or, are we getting neither richer nor poorer at the same time?

And I haven’t even begun to decide whether it will be a Rate Cut or a Rate Increase this time.

I think I better leave it to the Economists.

But all is not lost. At least I have been able to establish that, like the oceans of the world, we are all connected. You wouldn’t have known that, would you?

Going Viral

It was Gol-Maal on Saturday. The original Hindi comedy about imagined twins, of early eighties vintage, with Amol Palekar in the lead.

On Sunday it was Article 15, about the reality of equality versus the utopian hope enshrined in the Indian Constitution.

Yesterday it was Highwaymen, a tepid, predictable period film with Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson tracking down Bonnie and Clyde.

Today’s movie is still to be decided. I expect a lot of decisions regarding movies will need to be taken over the next few days.

No football on TV. No cricket. No tennis. No nothing. At least nothing live.

A lot of people clapped at 5 PM on Sunday, as asked by the PM, as a token of appreciation for the medical people, working with integrity and at great personal risk, in these troubled times. I did not. Tokenism is not for me. I appreciate medical people at all times. Don’t need to clap at 5 PM to show my appreciation. I also appreciate the armed forces. Despite random people insisting we need to show appreciation for the armed forces, and that one would be unpatriotic if one did not forward a random WhatsApp message supporting them. And the police force. And the cleaners. And all sincere, honest, hard-working people trying to make a difference to the world we live in.

The people who did not clap are likely to be name-called by the people who did. Like unpatriotic. And asked to migrate to a neighbouring country. In my humble opinion, that is the nature of herd mentality. But, to be fair, the people who clapped are also likely to be name-called by the people who did not clap. Like sheeple.

One got to see pictures of many leaders, business leaders especially, clapping as asked by the PM. On LinkedIn. On Twitter. What good is clapping at the request of the PM unless you can get someone to take a picture and post it in places where there is some possibility that the PM or his minders will notice. Along with a patriotic, motivational message. In other words, a message that appreciates the PM’s vision and leadership. My neighbours who clapped are fools. I don’t think they took any pictures when they were clapping. Nor did they put up patriotic, motivational messages on LinkedIn and Twitter. I wonder how the PM, or the CM, or even the DM (District Magistrate) will know they clapped. But I will leave them to solve their problems. I have to focus on mine.

In my defence, I was misled. Or unled. How was I to know that the request from the PM to make sound at 5pm had a “very hidden scientific message” that I saw only too late. “Sound waves if created all over the country at a fixed common time will surely disrupt the travel of virus & repel them not to enter our vicinity. This is the reason why sound & noise is made at the dawn & sunset in the temples, in the old Churches in olden times and the holy Aazaan by the Muslims. Without the sunlight the virus & bacteria and all evil Spirits become more active. Hence this stand to create an aura of sound waves to shoo away all the negative forces entering and to save our country and the whole world.”  What would I not do to shoo away negative forces. Or weaken and starve evil spirits, and virus and bacteria, with sunlight. Since it was a scientific message, it had to be hidden. And since it was hidden, I could not see it.

As if that wasn’t responsibility enough for the spread of the Covid-19 virus, I also broke the chain. The one that required an uninterrupted chain of 10000008 people chanting the Mrityumjayamantra to be formed. If you must know, even people in Canada are chanting Mrityumjayamantra. Maybe one or two people, maybe in an entirely different context, but people in Canada nevertheless, which the person sending out this missive certainly would have known. And hence so must you.

When all this is over, and mankind looks back on this chapter in our evolution, and our struggle with Covid-19, I think I will be held responsible. Not only no clapping, but breaking the chain too. What was I thinking? I wonder if there will be second, or, in this case, third, chances.

By now we know that it affects the Chinese but not the French or Germans. We know it affects people living in hot climates but not those living in cold ones. We also know that It affects children and young adults but not the elderly. And it affects white-skinned people but not dark-skinned ones. Also, it affects people living in the Northern hemisphere only, and that too people speaking Spanish but not those who speak Mandarin or Russian. Most importantly, it affects the poor but not the rich. More specific to the Indian context, it impacts Jats and Rajputs, but not Kayasths and Brahmins.

Of course, we know nothing of the sort. If we do know something, it is that Covid-19 does not discriminate by nationality, language, religion, caste, or any other difference that humans like to highlight from time to time as a justification to maim and kill others for. If ever there was a doubt that human beings are a common race, hopefully the spread of Covid-19 dispels it.

This too, then, shall pass, is my belief. Of course, there will be Hell to pay. The old order will changeth, yielding place to the new. Some ways of life will undergo a drastic change. Many industries will be severely impacted. As will some sincere, honest, hard-working people, for no personal fault of theirs.

It seems President Trump was right. About the environment. We make too much of a fuss about it. Let us go about our assigned task of messing with it while we can. After all, nature will eventually reclaim its spaces, as people seem to be saying with Covid-19. Witness the once again beautiful sunsets across the Arabian Sea, or the once more breathable air in Delhi. Perhaps we have not crossed the point of no return. Yet.

It seems we had forgotten what it meant to go viral the old fashioned way…