Even as the nation continues its fight against the Wuhan Coronavirus and tries to stop the spread of the virus, lots of media organisations as spreading panic by claiming that India will face situations like other countries and the current measures are not enough to stop the pandemic to descend into stage 3, which is community spread. Such a report was published by news agency IANS, which was carried by news portals like NDTV and National Herald, which cited a study on Coronavirus done by The Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP) in collaboration with John Hopkins University, US. The report claimed that the study has found that the ongoing 21-day national lockdown will not be able to contain the spread of Covid-19. A screenshot of the cover of the report was widely spread on social media, which showed the logos of CDDEP and JHU on it.
But when one social media user asked the University whether the study was done by one of their students, the University responded that the use of their logo in the report is unauthorised, and they will be taking the matter with CDDEP.
The use of our logo was not authorized in this case and JHU is engaging with CDDEP on it. Thank you.— Johns Hopkins University (@JohnsHopkins) March 26, 2020
Although the JHU didn’t directly comment on the report, presumably because the tweet they were responding to didn’t contain the content of the report, it makes it clear that John Hopkins University has denied any official associated with the report, by terming that use of their logo as unauthorised.
When we looked at the website of The Center For Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, we found that they indeed have published the report, but surprisingly, it has no mention of collaboration with JHU. They say that they have prepared the Covid-19 report based on evidence from InidaSIM Model, which is “a well validated agent-based model of the Indian population”, according to them.
The report was published on 24th March, so presumably, it was published before the national lockdown as it announced by PM Narendra Modi at 8 PM on that day. It disagrees with such a measure and says that border closures at this stage have little to no impact and add further economic disruption and panic. “A national lockdown is not productive and could cause serious economic damage, increase hunger, and reduce the population resilience for handling the infection peak”, the report says.
Moreover, the PDF version of the report available on CDDEP website does not contain the JHU logo as seen in the screenshots. Therefore, it is not sure how IANS concluded that the prestigious university had collaborated in the study, when CDDEP itself does not mention that. The CDDEP website mentions some other studies where it had collaborated with JHU, but the Coronavirus study is not among them.
The CDDEP report dated 24th march argues against national lockdown, but on 21st, the CDDEP director had said, “We should lock down now”
A very important point to be noted that while the report published on 24th argues against national lockdown, just 4 days earlier CDDEP’s founder and director was stressing on the need of a national lockdown.
In an interview with controversial journalist Barkha Dutt for her venture Mojo, CDDEP director Ramanan Laxminarayan had said, “if we have to do a lockdown, it would be now. We should lock down now, for a two-week period”. He had stressed that “we need it immediately.” The interview was published on 21st March, but surprisingly, just three days later, Laxminarayan’s report published a report arguing against the nationwide lockdown.
It is important to note that Dr Ramanan Laxminarayanan not a doctor. He has a PhD degree who is recently being projected as a doctor and a health expert by several news organisations.
Ramanan Laxminarayanan is a UPA-era public health entrepreneur, and has worked for a little-known not-for-profit organisation named Public Health Foundation of India for the last four years. According to BJP leader Vijay Chauthaiwale, Laxminarayanan while working with PHFI in India, had launched two private companies without taking appropriate PHFI permission. Later, PHFI did not renew his contract in 2016 and also sued him for stealing the NGO’s intellectual property.
Laxminarayanan also ventured into commercial activities by starting a company called Health cube, which according to him works in the area of diagnostics. Another venture set up by the so-called health expert is “Public Health Technologies Trust”. The websites of both Health Cube and Public Health Technologies Trust suggest that Ramanan Laxminarayanan is into the business of health solutions.
In the interview with Barkha Dutt, Laxminarayanan had elaborated with their InidaSIM Model they are using to study the coronavirus outbreak in India, and had not mentioned about any collaboration with John Hopkins University.
Therefore, it is clear that a report published by a questionable organisation with contradictory stand on lockdown is being peddled as a study by a US-based university.