Hope for the best but be prepared for the worst

The forecasts of India’s Kovid trajectory are indicative of how bad our second wave will be in the next three weeks. Take the latest forecast from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) scientists. They used a mathematical model to warn of the “Kovid-19 tsunami”, with the number of active cases in India at 3.3-3.5 million (which now exceeds 2.8 million) by the time this wave rises in mid-May. Or consider a study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in the US, which estimates that the daily death toll in India will rise to 5,600 by May 10, with a total of 665,000 people affected by the epidemic in August. These numbers are horrendous, with some observers suspecting they are too conservative, while others dismiss them for the simple reason that last year’s predictions proved too exaggerated. Just as Dore economists scoffed at the prediction of more recessions than what was actually happening, epidemiologists took too long for the horrific conditions.That was last year, though. This year’s wave is much less manageable, due to the fact that recent hyper-infectious coronavirus mutants have been acting as googlyz and its modelers fragrance has gone wrong against pessimism this time around. A previous IIT prediction, for example, was that the wave would peak by April 15-20, and that its model would have to adjust in the light of reality. Since no one can foresee the future with much confidence, our best option is to prepare for the worst scenario.

Assessing the response needed to resolve our Kovid crisis has already done a lot of harm. In order not to repeat past mistakes, it is necessary to re-evaluate both the scale and scope of our effort. Some of these have taken place. In the first half of April, an authorized team led by Dr VK Paul, a member of the Niti Aayog, reportedly instructed authorities to raise 300,000 new daily infections by April 20 and supply oxygen to half a million by the end of this month. ‘Plan B’ to handle 600,000 cases. The actions taken by the Center last week indicate that the second plan has been implemented. Oxygen efficiency, however, takes time to confirm. Furthermore, the case count is fraught with fatigue of test efficiency in some hotspots and we cannot ignore the possibility of India’s daily case curve remaining steep (7 day rolling average). In particular, the efforts we make to fill the gap that looks good should not overwhelm other shortages that arise. In addition to medicines and other supplies needed by patients and health workers, we must also reduce the supply of medical supplies such as oxygen masks and tubes. In a crisis like this, even if the extra stock is not eventually used up, emergency funding should be available for all of these. True, this can be bypassed-but not unless you’re a techie who knows what he’s doing. Similarly, as suggested by cardiologist Devi Shetty, we need to recruit a large number of paramedics who are going to graduate from nursing schools.

Large financial flows, some of which appear unnecessary in reconsideration, are now inevitable. Such burdens must be borne. The same logic applies to lockdowns, the tougher versions of which would have to be imposed in fire-watching states. If optimized by learning last year to increase security and minimize disruptions (especially essentials), our economy would not need to be severely damaged. Priority should be given to saving lives.

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