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Home Fact-Check Media Fact-Check Shekhar Gupta's The Print publishes article denigrating India's efforts to curb Coronavirus pandemic: Here's...

Shekhar Gupta’s The Print publishes article denigrating India’s efforts to curb Coronavirus pandemic: Here’s why it’s completely off the mark

Japan has consciously chosen to opt for limited testing, it has the capacity to test 7,500 people a day bit it averages about 1,200 to 1,300 per day. It is based on the premise that draining the health care resources with less severe cases ought to be avoided because its current policy mandates that those who test positive be admitted to a hospital.

The Wuhan Coronavirus pandemic has the world struggling to grapple with the crisis. But even with a threat of such gigantic proportions, political partisanship still continues to affect the manner in which the efforts made by the respective countries are covered. Thus it is in the USA, and naturally, so shall it be in India as well. Writing for The Print, Shivam Vij, who has a history of furthering fake news, claimed that Prime Minister Modi’s ‘poorly planned lockdown’ will not save the country from Wuhan Coronavirus but will kill the economy.

The headline of article by Shivam Vij for The Print

The article, as is usual for Vij, is littered with inaccuracies which we shall now discuss. The article was published on the 25th of March, before the economic package was declared by the government, and we need to be mindful of the fact. Shivam Vij mentions Singapore, Taiwan, Germany and Turkey as countries that have ‘relatively’ managed the crisis ell without enforcing a lockdown in their countries. Singapore and Taiwan are valid examples but one wonders why does Germany and Turkey deserve such a mention.

While it is true that Germany has managed to keep its death rate down, as of the time of writing this report, it had over 40,000 active cases with only 23 of them in critical condition. It has recorded 281 deaths and for the past five successive days, its death count has been going up significantly. Even if we ignore the allegations that it has been fudging its data regarding its death toll, its number of active cases do not reflect a ‘relatively’ better performance in this regard.

Turkey is even worse. Initially, ‘experts’ on television claimed that the Turks were ‘naturally immune’ to the virus due to their genetic make-up. It’s akin to the rabid Islamists in Iran, Pakistan and India who have been going around claiming that Allah and Islam will protect them from the Wuhan Coronavirus. Ultimately, Turkey’s Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, in a televised speech to the nation March 23, conceded that the pandemic had now spread all over the country. On Thursday, its death toll increased by 16 to 75 and the number of confirmed cases by 1,196 to 3,629. A total of around 40,000 tests have been conducted in the country thus far. One journalist said, “Unless the government takes drastic measures, including a complete lockdown, Turkey could be heading to the brink of a catastrophe.”

Read: Here is why India Today’s chart on economic relief to poor for coronavirus crisis is a sad joke

Thus, quite clearly, when Shivam Vij mentions Germany and Turkey as countries that have managed the crisis ‘relatively’ well despite a lockdown, he is again inventing facts to suit his particular narrative. It also needs to be remembered that the deadliest aspect of the Wuhan Coronavirus is that it could overwhelm the healthcare system of a country very quickly and thereby, leave countries without adequate resources to treat their patients. It is precisely what happened to Italy. Therefore, we will have to wait and see what happens with the death rate of Germany in order to conclude if it has indeed managed the crisis ‘relatively’ well.

Germany’s Wuhan Coronavirus stats (Source: Worldometer)

Shivam Vij also writes, “Like these other countries, India could also have avoided the need for a national lockdown had it done what those countries are doing: testing, testing, testing.” At the same time, while it is true that South Korea and Taiwan and even Singapore has relied on ‘testing, testing, testing’ to combat the crisis, it is not the only way to approach the menace. Japan, for example, has only 1,387 cases and 47 deaths and as of the 26th of March, it had conducted only 25,000 tests, which is similar to India’s numbers although it does have a vastly lesser population. Japan stands out with respect to South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan because neither did it employ surveillance technology like Singapore or Taiwan, nor did it resort to wholesale testing like South Korea. It did not even put entire cities on lockdown.

Japan has consciously chosen to opt for limited testing, it has the capacity to test 7,500 people a day bit it averages about 1,200 to 1,300 per day. It is based on the premise that draining the health care resources with less severe cases ought to be avoided because its current policy mandates that those who test positive be admitted to a hospital. Quite clearly, Japan has made the conscious decision of ensuring that its health care resources are not overwhelmed, the consequences of which would be devastating as we have seen in Italy. India appears to be treading a similar path while it ramps up the production of medical supplies to treat far more patients. Like India, ‘experts’ have also questioned Japan’s approach but we need to remember that a lot of these ‘experts’ were and are more concerned about the racist nature of the term ‘Chinese Virus’ than actual policy.

Read: Did Gujarat company ‘CoSara’ become ‘the first and only’ company to get ​license to make Covid-19 testing kits? Here are the facts

Shivam Vij says, “Sadly, Narendra Modi’s two national addresses have done little to address this concern about India not taking the mass-testing approach.” As stated earlier, it might be a conscious decision to avoid the mass-testing option. The lack of widespread testing, as well as the lack of PPEs (personal protective equipment) for doctors, is a scandal,” he says. The lack of widespread testing is not a scandal, as evidenced by Japan, and as for the lack of PPEs, there are sufficient quantities of it available as of now and more are being produced as we speak.

The article also states, “The deliverable is not how many people clanged pots and pans or how many obediently followed Modi’s advice of staying indoors. The deliverable is how many people got tested, how many doctors have protective gear, how many ventilators the government managed to manufacture or buy overnight. Another deliverable is isolation centres, temporary hospitals in indoor stadia and quarantine facilities that are fit for human beings.” Again, Shivam Vij is placing far too much importance on mass-testing, which as we have demonstrated, is not the only way to approach the crisis.

As for other matters mentioned, no country has adequate numbers in their inventory if it fails to curb the spread of the virus. The virus will overwhelm any system should it be allowed to run its course. That is precisely the reason why India has ramped up its medical supplies production and various private enterprises have jumped in to contribute to the procurement of the same. The United States has done the same. Countries that do not have them in adequate supplies are buying them from those that do. Even China, which is the manufacturing hub of the country, practically robbed countries of their medical supplies which, of course, could also be a well-planned tactic to put these countries in jeopardy.

The fact of the matter is, no country has medical supplies stored in the quantities that the battle against the Wuhan Coronavirus demands. It is also important to consider that this is an unprecedented situation. And by its very definition, countries and people are not well equipped to deal with such. They have to rise to the occasion in order to effectively to conquer the nemesis. Before long, it becomes evident that the objective of the article is not to raise valid concerns regarding India’s approach but to merely engage in political partisanship even as an apocalypse is knocking at the door.

Read: Wuhan Coronavirus: If India is testing too few, why is the percentage of ‘positives’ in India so low?

Shivam Vij says at one point, “Modi does not have the patience or the interest to deliver on these nitty-gritty details, he’s probably working on his next grandiose ‘address to the nation’ to be applauded for his oratory. He will leave the tough things to state governments and focus on the right optics to sustain his political ratings through a tough period.” At another point, he declares, “You have to be really naive to believe India’s official numbers of coronavirus patients — and then there are those who have died of sudden pneumonia without being tested or counted as coronavirus deaths.” These are not objective criticisms but the ramblings of a mind plagued by the Prime Minister’s popularity. As for India’s official numbers, there is no reason to doubt them as even with a naked eye, it is quite visible that Indian hospitals are not being overrun by diseased patients.

The article also waxes eloquence on the economy, which is indeed a matter of grave concern. However, India is not an exception. The USA’s economy has taken a grave hit as well. The unemployment numbers in the United States reached a record high of 3.28 million, which shattered the Great Recession peak of 665,000 in March 2009 and the all-time mark of 695,000 in October 1982. Indeed, many fear that the world might be on the verge of a global recession. Therefore, under these circumstances, it is preposterous to assume that India will escape the consequences of the Wuhan Coronavirus.

Furthermore, Shivam Vij’s claim that “If we survive the pandemic, we won’t survive the impending economic collapse” has little to do with reality itself. It is much too early to paint such doomsday scenarios but it is perfectly consistent with his erstwhile track record. Furthermore, his claim that “more Indians might die of hunger than of coronavirus” appears to be directed towards inducing panic among the citizenry as emergency measures are being undertaken at short notice by various governments and charities to ensure that people do not go hungry in these troubled times.

Shivam Vij also insinuates that the lockdown was not necessary. According to him, the lockdown could have been prevented if India had gone for ‘testing, testing, testing’. Like much of what he says, there’s no evidence to back that claim. What worked for South Korea will not necessarily work for us. And the Wuhan Coronavirus is far too great a threat for any government to take chances. It is indeed better to be safe than sorry.

Having said all of this, there is really no sugarcoat reality. India faces a grave crisis and vast sections of the populace will suffer. There is very little any government could do to prevent it. The best anyone could do is try and minimize the misery as much as possible. To that effect, apart from some glaring errors, the government has done far better than most countries around the world, developed countries included. People who blame the government for tragedies brought upon by the virus are doing so to serve their own personal agenda. Narendra Modi could not have prevented the immeasurable damage caused by the Wuhan Coronavirus, it is ludicrous to assume such a thing.

India is a country of close to 1.3 billion people. As such, a few random instances of police brutality, although every occasion is one too many, is not cause enough to blame the ruling disposition itself. Despite the monumental scale of the lockdown, it has gone down virtually without much chaos. People have suffered, yes, but others have also reached out to ease their pain. It is the best anyone could do given the circumstances. Engaging in political partisanship based on such demonstrations of poor personal conduct only reveals the motivations of those making the allegations.

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K Bhattacharjee
Black Coffee Enthusiast. Post Graduate in Psychology. Bengali.

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