As this issue of your newspaper reaches you, the Coronavirus pandemic is in full fury across the country, marching into new towns and villages, infecting more and more people, and killing some of them. Given the low case fatality rate in India, just about 0.08 percent if one goes by the sero surveys, the number of people dying because of COVID-19 is not very high, but given the sheer size of India's population, the final death tally will be quite substantial.
In areas like Delhi, Mumbai, Pune etc., where the coronavirus showed its fury first, it is on the wane. But this is not the time for complacency. In Delhi, for instance, the pandemic had come somewhat under control, but then there was another spike in cases and in deaths. It is being speculated that almost one-fifth of Delhi's 1.8 crore population had left for their native towns and villages when corona was at its peak in the month of June. And, when things improved appreciably in early August, most of them came back, largely free of corona. This created a fresh stock of susceptible people, which has led to a spike in cases and deaths in the month of August.
This indicates that no town or city can beat corona in isolation, for, people will move from one place to the other. People will definitely move to large cities that provide employment opportunities and economic sustenance. So, such cities can really be rid of the corona virus only when an area within, say, 250 kilometre radius is free of the virus to a large extent. This is why, the entire NCR Region has to be clubbed with Delhi in a common strategy to fight the coronavirus. No one population centre can get rid of the virus in isolation.
Serological surveys have brought some good news. The second one conducted in Delhi in early August indicated that some 29 percent of the population had antibodies to the coronavirus. This is up 5.5 percent from the situation which obtained in the first serological survey in Delhi in early July. This means that this many more people got infected in a month. Clearly, at this pace, it will take a few months for Delhi to be totally rid of the virus. Since there is only one virus and only one species of human being, the same story should repeat itself in other towns and cities. There will be a burst of cases, and then a steady trickle, till the virus finally ebbs.
Besides the cost in terms of infections and deaths that the coronavirus has exacted on India, it has also exacted a very high cost in terms of the contraction in the country's GDP. In the April-June 2020, quarter, the Indian economy has contracted some 24 percent from the same period a year ago. Now, 24 percent of our GDP means a very large sum of money. A very small part of this money, which has been foregone, could have improved our health infrastructure to such an extent that this loss would be far lesser. So, the policy makers should learn the lesson that money spent on healthcare and on supporting the Indian health and wellness industry is money well spent and brings huge returns.
If the choice is between health on the one hand and economic growth on the other, the Indian government has made the right choice of protecting the health of the people and allowing the economy to contract for this quarter. In so doing, a catastrophe has been avoided. But now, when we know to a large extent the limits of this virus, it is time to take cautious steps to open up the economy, let people get back to work, and let life go back to normal. Yes, expansion of normal activities will mean that cases will go up, but so will recoveries. In any case, a vaccine will only be available by early next year and there is no point in artificially extending the tenure of this pandemic in wait for the vaccine. The virus may well have run its course by the time the vaccine comes. It is best to focus on building immunity, avoiding risk, being prepared in case we get infected, and simultaneously going ahead with Life.