October 25, 2021
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Good morning. A bunch of fossils unearthed in Argentina’s Patagonia region tells us that dinosaurs were smarter than we thought they were. Scientists say that “some dinosaurs thrived in a complex and well-organized herd structure”. In this case, the plant-eating Jurassic species called Mussaurus patagonicus showed examples of “age segregation”. The hatchlings and eggs were found in one group and juveniles were found in a cluster nearby. The adults were found either in pairs or alone, i.e. to forage and care for the young. This becomes the oldest evidence of a complex social structure.
📰 FEATURE STORY
IIT-Kanpur’s Report On UP’s Handling Of The Pandemic: Fair Or Flawed Assessment?
Testing. Testing. Testing. It’s been the mantra ever since the pandemic set in. At the outset, every country used one basic but a drastic method to control the spread – lockdowns. Stay and work from home was the message. We’re at war with an invisible enemy. For India, the fight would be difficult for a few reasons. Our population density and less than stellar healthcare infrastructure, to name a few.
Given the wide-ranging complexities that define India in many ways, the news to the rest of the world from here looked grim. Cases and death tolls climbed. The second wave took a heavy toll. Then, vaccines came into the picture, and many breathed a sigh of relief. But the virus wasn’t giving up. In all this, various states had their ups and downs. Now, Uttar Pradesh (UP) is being highlighted for its success in handling the spread. Courtesy of a report from IIT-Kanpur, has the state really acquitted itself as a shining example, or is it a flawed portrait?
Some basic numbers to start – the latest data shows UP’s total confirmed cases at over 17.1 lakh. The total number of deaths is 22,899. Much like other states, the trend over the past few weeks has been downward on both fronts.
Let’s retrace the past 18 months of what happened in the state. Possibly the first positive case was a middle-aged man in Ghaziabad. He had travelled to Iran. At this time, the total number of cases in India as reported by the government was 30. On March 17 2020, the state extended the closure of educational institutions, cinemas, shopping malls, and tourist spots till April 2. The state also asked religious leaders to avoid crowding places of worship.
In the wake of the lockdown, the country faced a new crisis. Millions of migrant workers wanted to go back home. We’ve seen the visuals of families with children in tow walking for miles in the heat. Bus and railway stations crowded as families waited to return home. On March 28, the state government arranged 1000 buses to transport labourers at the border districts.
The first batch of UP labourers arrived on April 25. On April 30, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath asked officials to add 52,000 additional beds to state hospitals. As the weeks went on, the number of cases steadily climbed, as did deaths. On May 5, the state announced that 65,000 workers had been brought back. On June 1 came Unlock 1.0. All offices were opened, along with salons, markets. Public transportation resumed with some restrictions. However, schools and colleges were still closed.
The second wave brought the country to its knees. It was the worst COVID-19 surge in the world. A shortage of medicines, hospital beds, and medical oxygen plunged the country into an unprecedented crisis. Fast forward to April 16, 2021, the state announced a partial Sunday lockdown to curb the spread.
UP model a success
IIT-Kanpur decided to undertake research to study how the state handled the pandemic. It was led by Professor Manindra Agrawal. Here’s the crux of it – the state’s audit saved 30 MT of medical oxygen per day, and its initiatives to soften the economic impact on 40 lakh migrant workers worked well. The report also praises the government’s decision to employ migrant labourers.
Keep in mind UP is India’s most populous state. The study highlighted how the restrictions and containment zones helped reduce the spread and thus reduce the peak of infections. The approach used by states – “test, track and treat” was augmented to “test, track, treat, and tackle.” At 6.6 crores, it has the highest number of tests.
As the second wave set in, many states found themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. Large-scale lockdowns were often seen as the last resort. So here was the problem they faced – how do you curb the spread while trying to keep some level of mobility and economic activity going? The report highlighted the state’s approach of maintaining safety inside containment zones while continuing economic activities inside them. What this did was reduce the economic impact.
The initial approach used by UP concerning contact tracing won praise from the WHO. In November 2020, its Country Representative, Roderico Ofrin, said the state’s efforts in handling the spread were exemplary. He praised Yogi Adityanath’s government for deploying over 70,000 healthcare workers across the state to reach out to high-risk contacts.
A flawed report and messenger
First, let’s take a look at the person who led the research. Professor Manindra Agrawal is no stranger to commentary on the pandemic. To gauge the trajectory of the pandemic, he stated that the usage of mathematical models is helpful. It’s because simulating strategies allows for comparison between different approaches.
Some of his previous assertions have been dubious, to say the least. Let’s take a look. On March 7 this year, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said India was reaching the endgame of the pandemic. Agrawal was a member of the Department of Science and Technology’s panel that was tasked with modeling the trajectory of the virus. A couple of days after Harsh Vardhan’s comment, he said India would not see a second wave. Safe to say, he was proven wrong.
If you followed the news as the second wave continued to wreak havoc, the news reports of bodies floating in the Ganga were particularly distressing. You can’t be faulted for thinking that these deserve some acknowledgement and further investigation. The report only has a fleeting reference to media reports of bodies floating in the Ganga. Ground reports from the state spoke of numerous instances of overwhelmed crematoriums, burial grounds, lack of oxygen, and unreported deaths and cases.
According to the Uttar Pradesh Primary Teachers Association, 2046 teachers died while being on COVID-related duties. The report doesn’t mention this at all. This isn’t confined to UP. Studies have shown how India’s reported case and death numbers are severely underestimated. The report doesn’t give context to deaths in other states like Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. It asserts that Civil Registration System (CRS) data showed a 3% increase in deaths in 2020 over 2019. It was the same as the average growth rate between 2009 and 2019. However, the CRS data is inconsistent with unusual fluctuations from some districts.
For the second wave, the report likely used sources that cited data only from the hardest-hit villages. To estimate UP’s second wave mortality would be difficult as there’s no publically available CRS data post-April 2021. Wouldn’t it have been right for those involved in the report to demand this data? There’s no evidence they did. It’s always difficult to take such a report with any relative credibility. It has to do with the data – unreliable, inconsistent, and limited.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
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For the Left:
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🏴 STATE OF THE STATES
Weeding out witch-hunts (Odisha) – In the past eight years, 362 people were killed in rural Odisha for being “witches”. Despite existing legislation, the medieval trials have managed to persist in the rural parts of the state. As a result, the state government has directed all districts to train and sensitise Anganwadi workers on “the evils of witch-hunting”. Their School and Mass Education Department has also included lessons on the inhumane trials in the state’s school syllabus. Law enforcement agencies have been told to be on high alert as witch-hunting has become a cognisable and non-bailable offence.
Platelet panic (Uttar Pradesh) – The demand for platelet transfusions is seeing a considerable spike in Lucknow due to the recent rise in dengue cases. Doctors, on the other hand, say that the demand is based on nothing other than hysteria. Turns out, most dengue patients don’t even require a platelet transfusion. It’s the “panic among attendants” that is pushing up the demands. So breathe in, breathe out and only call for transfusions when told to.
Search for India’s heroes (Arunachal Pradesh) – Deputy CM Chowna Mein has formed a committee to collect data on Arunachal’s contribution to India’s freedom struggle. The goal would be to give credit where credit’s due and recognise the noble work of the “unsung heroes”. The committee is tasked with examining documents, archives, journals, etc., and consolidating the information before turning it over to the state government. It would then be available at the state’s research department and a website for easier public access.
Data analysts to the rescue (Goa) – With every passing year, the threat of climate change becomes more realised. Especially in Panaji, one of the more vulnerable areas. This is where the Atal Incubation Centre at the Goa Institute of Management (AICGIM) comes in. This centre is set to gather and assess data to offer solutions to make Panaji more resilient to climate change. It has also formed a Climate Collective, a team of researchers, analysts, etc., to work in teams for a week. The aim would be to come up with solutions that “strike a balance between policy, environment, and organisational projections.”
Ethics of elephant captivity (Tamil Nadu) – The Madras High Court has ruled against taking elephants into captivity in the future. This caused a lot of uproar in the elephant owning community. Certain reports also say that “captive elephants have [a] greater lifespan than wild elephants.” They also claim that with advancements in science, injured or menacing elephants in the wild can now be captured with “minimum trauma to the animals.” As of now, the court stands strong in its decision to disallow the capture of elephants if not for the treatment of the animal.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
$500 million – Sri Lanka has sought a $500 million loan from India for fuel amid its foreign exchange crisis due to the pandemic. The rise in global oil prices has forced their government to spend more on it which has affected them gravely. In fact, the island nation’s even seeing large winding queues at fuel pumps since Thursday, due to “speculation that retail prices would be hiked”. While the government refutes this, the opposition thinks otherwise.