Pandemics and Politics: Covid-19

With over 1,781,000 confirmed cases and approximately 108,000 deaths worldwide as of April 12, what started out as an epidemic in China, has now become possibly the world’s deadliest pandemic. The coronavirus or Covid-19, promises to not go down without a fight. As the United States of America battles the largest number of coronavirus cases at over 533,000, it has, among several other nations, declared a national emergency. Amidst crashing economies, broken supply chain for food and essentials, and lack of medical equipment, many governments acknowledge the world to be in the state of ‘war’. Having a mortality rate of 4%, and transmissibility of Ro 2.24 to 3.58, coronavirus undoubtedly provokes apprehension.

As the virus ravages nations that hold the apparent status of ‘developed’, governments must take immediate and effective action to the best of their abilities. While certain governments and populaces such as South Korea have handled the outbreak exceptionally, we see that even some the richest nations like America and the UK are unable to contain the pandemic. The reasons could be many, but the most blatant and plausible appears to be none other than the substandard handling of Covid-19, by respective administrations.


The United States of America

As of April 12, America battles over 533,000 confirmed cases, with around 94,000 in New York itself, this country with an unorganized healthcare system finds itself having a tough time. As healthcare workers, of supposedly the richest country in the world, struggle with equipment and staffing issues, the fact that President Trump’s approval rating is slumping vis-à-vis his handling of the situation comes across as no surprise.

Amidst a crumbling economy, with over 6.6 million citizens filing for unemployment in one week, and 16 million Americans having lost their jobs within three weeks, can a $1200 cheque possibly be enough? To put in perspective, the average American, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, spends $1,666 on only rent in one month. A 1200 dollar cheque cannot even accommodate the rent expenses of an American, how can it be expected to pay all the bills? With people losing their jobs by the minute, this is an economic crisis.

Trump’s campaign managers have told TV stations that they could lose their licenses for airing content criticizing the President’s actions. The media, which is purportedly the fourth pillar holding up democracy, is being muzzled in a pathetic attempt to hide the Trump administration’s incompetence. The government’s inability to send out the millions of test kits and protective medical gear as promised has proved to be disastrous as the first coronavirus victim’s son writes President Trump a letter holding him ‘directly responsible’ for his father’s death.

Another issue that America faces currently is that of inadequate testing. To help you understand this we can compare America’s testing rates with that of South Korea. Both the USA and South Korea had their first Covid-19 case discovered on the same day, however, today America stands at 533,000 cases, while South Korea is at a more or less stagnant 10,500. USA had tested about 367,710 tests as of Wednesday while South Korea had done 357,896. While America appears to have tested more than S. Korea, it is important to note that America’s population stands at 328 million, as opposed to South Korea’s 51.8 million. America has tested one in every 900 citizens, while South Korea has tested one in every 144 citizens. Following Wednesday America has ramped up its testing, but owing to the large reaction time, America’s healthcare system faces far more strain than that of Korea, where the number of tests needed are diminishing by the day. Thousands of US labs are going unused despite the fact that the US had plenty of time before the outbreak to prepare for it, courtesy China’s handling.

Unclear communication, a misinformed President who refers to serious medical concerns relating to the virus as hoaxes, and an administration that has been startlingly slow to react might just accelerate the downfall of America. Priority to the virus pre-outbreak could have comfortably prevented this, as done in the case of NIHI and Zika, it is a pity Mr. Trump is in charge.



Following a moderately successful ‘Janta Curfew’ on the 22nd of March, Prime Minister Modi announced a complete lockdown in India, barring essential services, which theoretically pursues the path of breaking the chain of the virus transmission. However, the effect of these herculean measures relies heavily on public cooperation. While the number of cases is lower than what could have been, the effectiveness of this lockdown is being questioned as cases increase by 900 a day.

The first instalment of fiscal relief for the weaker sections of society, worth Rs1700bn, has now come in, as the number of confirmed cases has surged to over 8000, with 290 deaths. As the economy crumbles, the RBI has announced EMI relief for all Indian citizens for three months. Expectations of economic recession no longer seem outlandish. Will the Indian immunity be competent enough to handle this?

While in certain respects the government appears to be doing a great job, a large part of this is superficial, as the Modi regime proves to be handling a pandemic as an image issue, a political pawn to fuel bigotry.

Frontline healthcare workers facing PPE shortage who have spoken out against the BJP now face severe backlash. Doctors at AIIMS are being threatened by the police. Instead of clapping bartans at 5 pm maybe the government should cut out the shallowness and actually help them save lives. Or perhaps the government could maybe consider the fact that Madhya Pradesh currently does not even have a health minister, and has health officials who have tested positive for the virus. But I suppose the government is preoccupied, sending medical assistance to Siberia even though it does not have the resources to do so.

As India bursts firecrackers amidst combating a respiratory disease, farmers and daily wagers are committing suicide, a flashback to Marathwada.

The Tablighi Jamaat incident. The BJP’s saving grace to help them turn the situation into one of political turmoil. As Hindus shoot at the Gurugram mosque, Muslims in Himachal and Haryana are committing suicide even after testing negative for the virus. Why? Bhakts. Even as the police refute the Amar Ujala report about Tablighi Jamaat members disobeying medical workers, it is too late, the damage is done. Muslims are being lynched by bhakts all over the country as Muslim women lose their children due to the bigotry our government is spreading intentionally. While no one is denying that the congregation was wrong, all we are saying is to stop generalizing Muslims on the basis of it. It’s funny that nobody even talks about the mass meeting, Rathotsava, held in Chitradurga, where thousands of Hindus congregated despite the bans on gatherings. The level of Islamophobia in this country, specifically fueled by an apparently secular government, is appalling.

It is difficult to stress this enough, but India needs to stop politicizing a pandemic. We cannot have MPs like Sumbramanian Swamy cherry-picking facts, insulting Muslims, demeaning them, refuting their equal status on national television when we claim to be a secular nation. It’s unacceptable, it’s pathetic.

While the three month EMI relaxation is great, daily wagers are still struggling. A 2.9 trillion dollar economy has come to a standstill. Since a large part of the manufacturing bases in India serve as coronavirus hotspots, the services industry, which contributes to almost half of India’s GDP has shut down. The prospects of a 5 trillion dollar economy under the Modi regime, which earlier appeared bleak, are now blatantly impossible. IMF warns us that we might be headed for the worst recession since the great depression.

In terms of testing, as of April 6 India has done only 1,30,000 tests. Only 93 people per one million of the population have been tested. Further, only people with all three symptoms – breathlessness, dry cough, and fever – are being tested, which means that the 8000 cases reported until now are only severe cases of the virus, no mild cases have even been tested.

Further, while the initiative to clap and light diyas seem great, the practicality of them is greater in first world countries. As seen over the past two attempts, people have congregated to burst firecrackers and dance on Mr. Modi’s call.

India’s leadership has moved decisively to prevent spread but lack of mass testing and medical resources present real challenges. With only one private lab authorized for testing in states like Delhi and Gujarat, with a population density of 464 per Km2, India is in untested territory. The nation sits in unrest, and in hope that self-isolation and public-cooperation can offset an under-resourced healthcare system. India must steer clear of bigotry and stand as one instead of politicizing this pandemic.