An update from the frontline of the Coronavirus. India is about to become the country with the largest number of Covid cases on earth. What's happened? What does this mean?
This is Jasper Reid and this is Letter from India. In this episode I'd like to talk about the coronavirus: Covid 19. In India in the next couple of weeks, we in India will have a larger number of cases than the USA, which will mean India has the largest number of cases on Earth. The virus is currently growing at a recorded rate of about 100,000 cases a day. And now that's the official number. But whichever way you come at this, the numbers are very large. So I wanted just to reflect as an outsider; as a foreigner living in India for many years. And right now from here in New Delhi. Because the whole world really sees Coronavirus and India through the headlines in, in the media, whether from their countries or from India. And most people don't really look beyond the headlines and the headlines are lurid. And the fear factor is high. And in any case, India, at least from my perspective, and in general terms, of course, the world often sees as a dangerous, complicated, highly populated, risky kind of a place. So in addition to that, the headlines tend to make people even more scared, but I thought I could dig into that based on reality, my personal experience and, and what's really going on. So this is for people who are really outside of that argument. Let's start really with the numbers, because the published numbers, frankly, are probably, you know, a great deal less than that actually is out there. I mean, there are different debates on this, but you can comfortably put a multiple of two or three, probably on the number of cases in India, of course, it's correlated with ttests and all of that. But much more important than the numbers is the fact that these numbers are seen in the context of the second most and possibly even the first most populated country on earth with 1.4 billion people. So like anything in India, the numbers are huge and thus, the reported numbers of cases or deaths or recoveries should be seen in that context. And really, in that context, the numbers are to be expected. And it's a strange phenomenon of COVID around the world, that people don't read these in relative terms, you know, they read them in absolute terms. So America's top of the list and Brazil second, then India passes Brazil, it's like some kind of bizarre football table. It's like a league. But it's important to understand in the first place in India that the numbers are relatively low as percentages of the population, even if you trebled them. And a lot of people believe that the reported numbers are much lower. The second thing really to say on numbers is that, and this, at least from the perspective of a family living here, and the perspective of an individual who runs businesses here, who has to assess risk, you know, we have children, we have a family, we have business, we have shareholders, but the thing that occurs us really is or strikes us is that the relative deaths in India are extremely low. So at the moment, the official number is around 1.7% of people that get the disease. And of course, like the rest of the world that 1.7%. is dominated by people with so called comorbidities or who are older or who are more vulnerable. And so, in that sense, actually, in absolute terms in India, it appears that the viruses is not at all risky and certainly, this is in the context of a country that any given time has a lot of risk, a lot of health risk. First of all, I mean, every year in India, in Delhi, even where we live, we deal with dengue, malaria, chikungunya. You know, we know people even in our social group, they get cholera, which is unheard of in in western countries, but it's it's a fact of life here. If it's not health, you can think about day to day risks. So one person dies every three minutes on the Indian Roads. I mean, think about that: every three minutes. So when people call us up, and they say, gosh, you're brave being in India, and it's possibly because there aren't many, that many English people, Irish people in India. Our response to that is that actually we're used to a lot of this risk. Just by driving out of wherever you live, you're taking risks by driving your car, you're taking risk. by feeding the street dogs, you're taking risk. So COVID, you know, is seen in the context of a place that has a lot of risk. Now, how that compares to people's mentality and the rest of the world, I make no real comment on other than it appears that generally people have taken an absolutist view of this not a relative view of this all around the world. So we go back to India, the numbers are headline, big, impact, low, relative risk versus other risks low. Let's talk about really what's happening in society because we've gone in a six month period from one of the world's harshest lockdowns in the end of March through to the end of May. And of course, the consequence of that really was just to ruin people who relied on a daily wage. I mean, all our businesses were shut. And so we were in the fortunate position of paying our people and what we did was we repurposed our business which is, which is a restaurant business. And we fed people who had nothing. And that became a thing for us. We overtime, we fed, consistently 32,000 people, we raised 350,000 US dollars from 1500 people in 26 countries. And so, again, what that brought home to life (and this is a reflection from India) is that and it's slightly related to the risk point, but for those who get a daily wage, and they could be ragpickers, which is like garbage pickers, rickshaw pullers, prostitutes, balloon sellers, you know, everyone that's in the casual economy, when they shut down, they have nothing. And manifestly having nothing is worse than having the virus. So it was a real insight for us. And it in a way, I suppose personally, it's made us much more relaxed about the risks. I mean, we carry on with our life here. We take some precaution, sensible precautions, as there is no point in being cavalier A, but we carry on our life. Not entirely as normal, because you can't do that yet. But because there are restrictions. But by and large, and this is the interesting dichotomy of India, while the numbers are skyrocketing, everything's opening up. And therein lies a really simple thing in India - and it's a reflection I have on many countries - which is that India simply cannot afford to lock down. It possibly politically had to; maybe it was, you know, incredibly difficult not to lock down politically. And the politicians make these calls. But quite rapidly, everyone's realize that there is no money to shore up the economy. There's no such thing as furlough; there's no handouts, it's survival of fittest, it's dog eat dog, which is probably what India is. So life goes on. And we have to open up and that's really what's happening. So bit by bit, people are kind of crawling out from under the stones that if they were lucky enough, they were privileged enough they were under hiding away. And everyone's getting back into life. You know, the malls are opening; high streets, the metro started the other day, traffic's up to about, you know, more than two thirds of usual levels. So it's really all opening up. So what we what we feel in India, basically, other than the fact that it has to open up is that, you know, India, in a sense, is now becoming like a massive version of Sweden. And yet, the numbers aren't from a hospitalization and death standpoint, relatively bad. And the recovery rates are extremely high. And so it's been a very rude and difficult and challenging interruption to, you know, to, to the year, but things will come back and I suspect that in India, the so called V shaped recovery will be much more acute than it will be in other markets, where fundamentally they're locking down then opening up, they're locking down, confidence drops every time lockdowns or restrictions are imposed. And that sort of really brings me to the end of the point here, which is that in the end, and what everyone thinks about this, this is just a practical comment. The virus can't be stopped in India, it simply can't be stopped. Look at the proximity of people. It's more densely populated than Israel, India. I mean, think about that more than the UK. But the point is, as soon as the virus starts, you know, the sooner it starts as soon as it finishes and you don't have to be Malthusian to, to say that because it's a fact. And when it finishes, life will go on and that's the point in India. And this is the glorious thing about India, life goes on. Whatever; in the face of all risks. It is a triumph of humanity and living and we've never seen really such a demonstration as we've seen in the last several months. So hail to the people who were locked down and and lost everything and here's to the recovery of India