There is a new Covid-19 mystery in India, and it is much darker than the first.
For most of the past year, Covid deaths across much of Asia and Africa have been surprisingly low, as i described last month. And they remain weak across most of Africa and East Asia – but not in India, which is suffering from a terrible epidemic. Hospitals are running out of oxygen to treat patients and confirmed Covid deaths have dropped to 2,000 per day, from less than 100 in February. The real death toll is even higher.
The large increase surprised many people both inside and outside India. “The massive rise of Covid in India puzzles scientists”, as Smriti Mallapaty wrote in Nature. “I expected more waves of infection,” said Shahid Jameel, a virologist at Ashoka University, “but I wouldn’t have dreamed it would be so strong.”
The price of pride
To make sense of what’s going on, it’s helpful to go back to last year, when Indian doctors and officials braced for waves of serious Covid disease. But these waves never quite happened. Instead, millions of people have contracted only mild cases.
The most plausible explanations – the time people spend outside in India, low levels of obesity, the relative youth of the population, and the possibility that previous viruses have created natural immunity – all seemed to suggest that India was not simply on a delayed Covid schedule. The country, like many of its neighbors, seemed to be escaping the worst of the pandemic.
Scientific research suggests that about half of adults in large cities had already been infected was consistent with this notion. “This led to the assumption that India had been vaccinated naturally at a low cost,” Dr. Prabhat Jha, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, told me.
Government officials acted with great confidence. As Ramanan Laxminarayan, a Princeton University epidemiologist based in New Delhi, told Nature: “There was a public account that India had conquered Covid-19.” Some scientists who believed a new wave of Covid was still possible were afraid to contradict the message from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. Modi has a stifling dissent record, and Freedom House, the democracy watchdog group, recently said India was no more than a “partially free” country which was evolving “towards authoritarianism”.
Confident of having beaten Covid, government officials relaxed restrictions on virtually all activity, including weddings, political rallies and religious gatherings. The northern city of Haridwar held one of the biggest gatherings in the world this month, with millions of people celebrating the Kumbh Mela Hindu festival.
By mid-March, however, the virus was starting to reassert itself. A major factor appears to be that many people who previously had mild or asymptomatic cases of Covid remained vulnerable to it. (A recent academic study, made in China, suggests that mild cases confer only limited immunity.) The emergence of new contagious variants also plays a role. This combination – less immunity than many people thought, new variations, and a resumption of activity – seems to have led to multiple mass-market events, New York University’s Dr Jennifer Lighter told me. .
The situation is so dire that some Indian crematoria are overwhelmed. Suresh Bhai, who works in one of them in the western state of Gujarat, told the Times that he had never seen such an endless chain of death.
The solutions available are no secret. The same two strategies have worked around the world: restricting the activities that spread the virus and speeding up the pace of vaccinations.
Over the past two weeks, some local governments, notably in Delhi and Mumbai, to have ad restrictions on travel, weddings, shopping and other activities. Speeding up vaccinations will be more complicated. About 10 percent of the Indian population received at least one hit, leaving more than a billion people to be fully immunized.
To do this, India – a major vaccine manufacturer – recently reduce on the export of doses. Indian officials also critical the Biden administration for not exporting more vaccines to India, given the large US supply. (The United States said yesterday that it would.)
Amid all this suffering, there is a glimmer of potential good news, Jha said. The number of cases in India’s second most populous state – Maharashtra, home to Mumbai – has often been a leading indicator of national trends, and of cases stabilized over the last week. It is too early to know if this is all failure, but it would be a big problem if the situation in Maharashtra stabilizes.
The last: In another anti-democratic move, the Indian government ordered Facebook, Instagram and Twitter delete messages criticism of its management of the pandemic.
Slander, Inc .: A Times reporter wanted to learn more about rumor websites. So he wrote an article about himself, and I watched it spread.
Lives lived: Bob Fass hosted an anarchic and influential radio show in New York City for over 50 years, with guests including Bob Dylan and Abbie Hoffman. Fass died at 87.
ARTS AND IDEAS
Why shows sound different
It’s hard to imagine the teen drama “Dawson’s Creek” without its theme song, “I do not want to wait” by Paula Cole. Yet, to the dismay of many fans, this is the only way to watch it on streaming platforms. Almost all of the original music for the series, which began airing in the late ’90s, is missing on Netflix, Hulu, and other platforms.
This is a problem that plagues many shows that find a second life on streaming: they no longer have the right to use their original tapes, as Calum Marsh writes in The Times.
TV shows pay for the right to use songs. Before streaming, producers often opted for short-term licenses on popular songs, to save money. But streaming has increased the number of shows that last for years, leaving some without their music.
New shows don’t make the same mistake. “We have to get rights forever,” said Robin Urdang, an Emmy-winning music supervisor. And some old shows are responding to fan outcry: Cole said a new deal means his song will be back soon as the opener of “Dawson’s Creek.” – Sanam Yar, morning writer
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to cook
Friday’s spelling pangram was allocation. Here is today’s puzzle – or you can To play online.