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Get used to life as a masked person

For weeks now, this column has been about Covid.

Even before this wave of the Pandemic reached today’s heights, I have been complaining about the ineptitude of the government’s Covid managers.


These were the people who wanted to keep such a tight control on the battle against Covid that they destroyed our vaccination strategy by refusing to order enough vaccines, by fighting off demands for private sector involvement in distribution, assured us that the Pandemic was in its end game and took too long to approve new vaccines.


   One by one, every single idiotic position they adopted has collapsed and government policy has been reversed. But it has taken too long for that to happen and hundreds of people have lost their lives in the meantime.


   You could easily make out a case of criminal negligence against them. But, I hope, that at the very least, they will be held accountable and dismissed. Too many people have died. And India has paid a terrible price for their smugness, arrogance and stupidity.


   But now that we are in worse shape than ever before, here is a layman’s guide to the key questions about the pandemic.


What accounts for this wave?


Well according to our government, it is our own fault. We have ignored Covid protocols, not worn masks, gathered in crowded places, etc. Some of this is true. Indians have behaved irresponsibly. Forget about the metros, I have travelled through Agra, Jaipur and other cities and found the streets full of people who did not bother to wear masks.


   But here’s the problem: this was when numbers were actually going down.


   The irresponsibility of the public did not change. It was the same when Covid was on the decline and when the numbers rose again. So logic suggests that there has to have been a new variable. Or a new variant.


Is this the current wave attributable to a different variant?


Logic tells us it must be. Nothing else has changed. So why would numbers go up so drastically unless a more easily transmissible Covid variant is causing the infections?


   We have found new variants all over India. In Punjab the UK variant is partly responsible for the infections. And a so-called Indian variant was found late last year. It accounts for many of the Maharashtra infections.


   The trouble is that the virus mutates all the time. There are many variants. You need careful research to establish whether a new variant is more dangerous.


   We are still lagging behind in that research so there is no official word from the government. But the world seems to think that a new variant is causing this wave. That is why the UK has banned travel to and from India.


How does one cope with a new variant?


You can look at the experience of the UK. When it discovered a highly transmissible variant called the Kent variant (what we now know as the UK variant), the government locked down the country and speeded up vaccinations. It worked. The UK is slowly returning to normal.


So why didn’t we do that?


Because we say we are still not sure (at least officially) if a variant is responsible for our Pandemic. The crucial research is still incomplete.


   And there is a vaccination problem.


What ‘vaccination problem’?


First of all, we need to be sure that our existing vaccines, Covishield and Covaxin work against this variant. The government announced a few days ago – finally – that they worked against most variants, including the Indian mutation.


   The logical thing to have done would have been to begin to follow the UK’s example and stepped up vaccination for all.


 "But recent experience shows us that even if you have had both your jabs (as Manmohan Singh did) you might still get Covid."

   But there was a problem.


   India is the vaccine manufacturing hub of the world as we bragged when we sent lakhs of vaccines abroad. So vaccine availability should not have been a problem.


   But there is no accounting for human stupidity and arrogance. The Indian government delayed approving vaccines that the rest of the world had approved (such as the Russian Sputnik V) and did not order enough of the Covishield vaccine we were manufacturing in India.


Why did they do this?


Because they are arrogant idiots. Obviously, the Prime Minister shares this view of his medical czars.


   Because, after a public uproar, their policies were reversed. India said we would welcome any vaccine that was in general use abroad, we allowed vaccine imports and we gave money to the two Indian manufacturers to increase production.


   Much of this could have been done two months ago. Now, because it takes time to get vaccines, the earliest we can open up vaccination to all adults is 1 May.


Will increasing vaccination help?


Yes, of course it will.


   But recent experience shows us that even if you have had both your jabs (as Manmohan Singh did) you might still get Covid. But, say doctors, the vaccines will make the impact of the disease less serious. It is very unlikely that you will fall critically ill or die.


What should we do then?


Wear masks. Ideally N 95 masks, or if not, then two regular masks at the same time.


Isn’t this the same old advice?


Yes and no. Science is now more sure of the need for masks. The old view was that Covid spread through surfaces and big droplets. So if you used sanitizers on everything and maintained social distancing, you were fine. The sanitizers would disinfect the surfaces and the droplets would fall to the ground before they could reach anyone who maintained social distancing.


   The new view is that it is actually very difficult to get infections from surfaces. So sanitizers are of limited use. Just wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.


   Covid, we now know, does not spread through large droplets that fall to the floor. The primary cause of infection is the breath of a Covid-infected person which comes out in a spray, full of micro-particles that may linger in the air.


   If the Covid affected person is wearing a mask, he does not spray as many micro-particles. And if you are wearing one too, you won’t inhale them.


Is there a new general rule?


Yes. Do not remain unmasked in a closed space unless you are with someone you are confident about, say your spouse or your kids. Otherwise, keep your mask on: a person may have Covid and be totally asymptomatic and still be infectious. At the very least, if you have to take off your mask, make sure the other person is wearing one.


   Even if the person who you are exposed to has been vaccinated, work on the assumption that he or she could be Covid positive.


Is there a way out?


Only to some extent. Scientists say that it is safer outside, so if you want to go to a restaurant then eat al fresco. You can perhaps take your mask off if you are isolated in a park.


Are there any other things to worry about?


Plenty. But here is just one. In the first wave, children did not seem to get Covid. Older people were at much more risk of infection. But in this wave, all ages are at risk.


When will it get better?


Things should improve once many more people are vaccinated. But even if all goes well, we won’t get to a stage where it makes much difference till September-October.


   So get used to life as a masked person.


   Batman came to terms with it. So should you.



Posted On: 20 Apr 2021 08:25 PM
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