TNW, New Delhi,April 4. When something between 50,000 and 70,000 people died in the heat wave in Europe in 2003 the Indian media had barely covered this tragedy. More than one-fourth of these casualties occurred in France. All this had happened when in most of the places in that continent the temperature had hardly crossed 36 degree centigrade. Thus, some 700-800 people perished every day that summer. The social media was virtually non-existent in India then.
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention 80,000 people died of flu in the United States in the year 2018. There was no space for this news in Indian media either.
In Italy, another epicenter of Corona Virus this year, some 68,000 people died of influenza in three years between the winter of 2013-14 and 2016-17. Thus the average was more than 22,500 deaths every year. If the United States’ figure could not be covered in the Indian media why should the death in Italy get attention as many times less Indians live here in comparison to the US. But what has suddenly changed this year? Why the government, the media and doctors suddenly woke up and are pushing all the panic buttons and in the process everything has gone haywire?
The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi had to made two televised appearances on March 19 and 24 when even hardly a dozen people had died of COVID-19 in the country. The confirmed cases of Corona Virus till that date were just over 500.
Five days later Modi had to apologize for the hardship caused to the people but added that the decision was inevitable.
At the same time the Indian Council of Medical Research on March 28 said that there is little evidence of community transmission of the disease, though on March 14 it had warned that such transmission is inevitable.
The big question is: Why all out of sudden everyone in India––from the government to the media to doctors and NGOs––become so conscious of the Corona Virus when the first case was detected in the first week of Dec last year in neighbouring China. In India, the first case was confirmed on Jan 30 in Kerala. The victim had recently returned from China.
We were least concerned about this disease till the last week of February. About a lakh people had assembled in Ahmedabad to greet President Trump on Feb 24. At the same time, Delhi had witnessed communal riots. Internationally Israelis went to poll on March 3 to elect a new Parliament for the third time in a year. A day later Saudi Arabia banned Umrah to Makkah but on March 8 Women’s T20 World Cup final match was held in Melbourne, Australia. On March 15 municipal polls were held in France, though the turnout was much low.
On his part President Trump was ridiculing China and repeatedly calling the disease as Chinese Virus or Wuhan Corona Virus. All this had happened when the World Health Organisation had on March 11 declared the disease as pandemic.
The truth is that all western countries had taken the pandemic warning lightly though COVID-19 had been taking a huge toll in Europe by then. As deaths because of flus are quite common in Europe and the United States they might have failed to anticipate the impact of Corona Virus.
Besides, as the media in the West has been covering the Corona Virus since December last, they could not dare to underplay its impact when the disease hit Europe and then North America. This was a significant departure from the past when influenza took the lives of 80,000 in the United States in 2018. Those who were questioning China’s capability to fight Corona Virus were caught on the wrong foot. Criticism started growing strong of the western governments, especially the United States, which was more interested in trade war with China.
Not only that President Trump on March 13 tightened the sanctions on Iran––another country hit by the disease. It was when things started going out of hand in Europe that we too in India woke up. Several of those experts who were underplaying the impact of COVID-19 till it was killing people in neighbouring China suddenly changed gear. The government decided to lockdown the whole country within four hours notice. This was unheard of even in the worst affected countries which imposed lock-down in phase-wise manner.
On the other hand many other experts, citing the MIT study and other research papers repeatedly claim that Corona Virus will not hit the countries of the Tropical region as hard as those of Temperate region of the North. The MIT study suggested that COVID-19 wreaked havoc in the countries having the temperature between 5 and 11 degree centigrade. Even in Iran it had its impact in the northern part of the country which has much cooler climate.
Those who were claiming that the Corona Virus may not hit the sub-continent as hard as the countries of temperate region found themselves in minority.
However the latest figures suggest the countries of the sub-continent, though much more densely populated, have witnessed much less cases of Corona Virus in comparison to the countries of the North. In the sub-continent there is a unique contrast between Pakistan and Nepal. Pakistan witnessed much higher number of cases simply because, pilgrims from Iran returned to the country at the time when the former was in the grip of Corona Virus.
Till April 4 Nepal, the country closes to China, had only nine confirmed cases of Corona Virus with no deaths––though 1,356 testing had been done. Incidentally Nepal too is supplier of migrant labours to Gulf countries.
(Soroor Ahmad is a senior journalist based in Patna. He is author of ‘The Jewish Obsession’.)