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?

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…