I heard this concept for the first time from my dear friend who has been managing the COVID war room for the Government for the last 6 months; no doubt a very stressful job. I was on a phone conversation with him earlier last evening. I wanted to learn more about his experience, and kept him going in the conversation so that he could explain it to me in detail.
He began with the story of the very beginning of the nCOVID19 virus, and the first time we started to hear about it, possibly sometime in late December 2019. At that time, most of us read about it or heard about it on the television. Most of us had passed it off as yet another news item. Later, we started to hear about its outbreak in the Wuhan province, and the massive spread and fatalities. However, we were told by the WHO that ‘human to human’ spread was unlikely with this virus. So, while all of us felt sad and empathised with the victims of the outbreak in China, it was still ‘distant’ in our minds.
And the next thing you know, it had spread to Italy, and other parts of Europe. We still had a feeling of it being ‘distant’, but it was a mystery, and also the beginning of our curiosity, media scrutiny, and speculations. The question everybody was asking was, how the virus had jumped to Italy and its neighbouring countries in Europe, and we all eventually found out that there was a lot of trade and travel happening between Wuhan and Italy. We could connect the two dots. The curiosity later shifted to asking, “Why so many fatalities in Italy, and why is there a rapid rate of infection in that part of the world — the number of infections, and the vivid visuals of patients being reeled into hospitals and intensive care, in the backdrop of the screaming ambulances?”. This started our understanding of how infectious the nCOVID virus is, and its serious implications on life and livelihoods.
We now got busy tracking the nCOVID19 phenomena and what China was saying about it: essentially, denying most theories and evidence that pointed to the Wuhan labs. The virus spread to the USA, and New York was hit badly among many other locations in the US. The President of the US started to call it ‘The China’ virus, and there is anger in the rest of the world, possibly barring North Korea and Pakistan.
As we waited with bated breath, India announced its first COVID case, and traced it to overseas travel. And then, as the number of infections started to increase, India went into a complete lockdown which resulted in blunting the rate of growth of infections, and the fatality rates. India started evacuation flights to bring back its citizens who were stuck in many of the badly hit countries. As they started coming back in, the growth in infections stepped up.
The migrant labor crisis started around the same time. Opposition parties were making a lot of noise, and the media showing the inhuman conditions and ordeals that the migrant labor force was going through: mostly, the labourers who had come to bigger cities in search of jobs, living in inhuman conditions, and barely making a living for themselves and their families. We cannot easily forget the visuals of them walking back with their children and their meagre belongings. And then, hurriedly commissioned buses were filled with people with no masks, no social distancing, to transport them to their villages so at least they get a better chance to fend for themselves. So, the virus had arrived big time in India.
Even as I am writing this piece, I hear the sounds and noise of carpentry work in progress at a couple houses that are being built perilously close to our compound wall. So much for the ‘zoning laws’ in this country. I know that there are at least 100-150 workers from Rajasthan who have camped in the area. They have not stopped working through the lockdown period, and through the present COVID times.
And then the media was full of COVID stories, sometimes sensationalising it, but looking at it pragmatically and preparing us for what was to come. We started to look at the numbers and the locations more carefully. I live in a small city called Mysore, which is about a three-hour drive from Bangalore.
Soon, the Bangalore outbreak happened, and surprisingly Mysore still had zero active cases two months ago. Mysore is a popular tourist destination, but with tourists leaving, the floating population in Mysore was very small. All modes of transport to Mysore from different connected cities were blocked during Lock down.
As Unlock 1.0 started to get implemented, all the state borders were opened, the public transport buses and trains started to operate, and the city commute was near normal. Then, we heard about the first outbreak in Mysore. At that time tracking and tracing was still working. But we took some relief in knowing that they were mostly in parts of cities on the periphery. The next thing we know, many households in the neighbourhood had caught the infection. Covid was now at our doorstep. Finally, even after several weeks of isolation and taking all precautions, our home staff and a couple of family members tested positive.
After nearly 9-10 months from the time the nCOVID virus was made, or was born at Wuhan (presumably in December of last year), the pandemic hit us too.
My story of the ‘pandemic spiral’.