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Monday, Aug 03, 2020 13:00 [IST]

Last Update: Monday, Aug 03, 2020 07:17 [IST]

Running out of options

In six months after the virus surfaced, India is now the epicentre of the global coronavirus pandemic. It ranks just behind the U.S. and Brazil in confirmed cases and is growing faster than either. The total rose 20% in just the last week, despite the fact that India is testing less than most of its peers.
When India reported its first case on January 30, there were already over 8,000 cases worldwide, but just one per cent of them were outside China. The United Kingdom and Italy, which went on to become among the world’s worst-affected countries just two months later, had seen no cases yet, while the United States had just five.
For the first month, the only other new cases India registered were of two other students who had returned at the same time. Over the next month, India added over 1,000 new cases, as infections popped up in Maharashtra, Delhi and Karnataka among others, and a nationwide lockdown was imposed towards the end of the month. Cases grew exponentially in April, setting up the outbreak as we know it. Every month since January 30, India has accounted for a growing share of the world’s cases, and now makes up nearly 10 per cent of the world’s total burden, and roughly 20 per cent of new cases each day. In its sixth month now, the pandemic is more widespread across Indian states than it has ever been.
It’s looking increasingly likely that India will wind up being the country with the most cases in the world. This is not just a function of its massive population; China, too, has over 1 billion people. It is a reflection of the fact that big, diverse countries are at a disadvantage in dealing with pandemics.
Smaller nations such as New Zealand or Thailand can manage the flow of cases by shutting down their international borders. But internal borders are as porous in India as they are in the U.S. Imagine, for instance, how impossible it would have been for Europe to flatten its curve if it hadn’t suspended the Schengen agreement and freedom of movement for its 450 million people. Generally, officials in large nations are reduced to playing whack-a-mole: Even if they suppress an outbreak in Kerala or New York, chances are it will pop up somewhere else.
The pressure to “reopen" in such countries is also greater. Large nations do well economically because they have big, interdependent and diverse internal markets. Consequently, they can ill afford to have those supply chains broken for long. Unlike the U.S., India was quick to impose a proper nationwide lockdown — at great economic and human cost. Yet now the virus is spreading because people have to move across internal borders if the economy reopens even slightly.
That puts a premium on effective government. Keeping close track of such movements and of every little outbreak would require a centralized state with no shortage of spare capacity — ideally one already primed to spy on its own citizens, such as China’s. This may be our best bet.

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi