In Tamil Nadu, things started off quite well. The spread of the infection was slow. The first big spread happened with the Tablighi Jamaat incident. Even though numbers from TN were rising, they were mostly restricted to contacts of those who had attended the Jamaat gathering in Delhi.
And then, in the beginning of May, there came the big hotspot at Koyambedu wholesale market in Chennai. Since that time, numbers have been going up by hundreds every day. In the last one week, the rise has been particularly alarming, with Tamil Nadu swiftly displacing Gujarat as the most affected state in the country.
One lesson we have learned in understanding the pandemic is always to keep a watch on growth rates instead of absolute numbers (as long as we are above a certain minimum threshold). In other words, suppose there are two states whose daily growth numbers are as follows:
State 1 : 500, 510, 490, 520, 525, 505…
State 2: 50, 100, 150, 200, 250, 300
In this scenario, even though State 2 is reporting far fewer cases than State 1, it is the situation in State 2 which is more alarming. Because the numbers in the first row are sort of stuck and have hit a plateau. But numbers in the second row are picking up. And the geometric progression will beat out the first row in a matter of days.
Gujarat was actually doing quite well until mid-April or so. Then, disaster struck. In a matter of days, Gujarat found itself at No. 2, just behind Maharashtra. Again, since the beginning of May, things in Gujarat have sort of been uniform, with around 350-400 new cases per day. I had to check the numbers from Gujarat very carefully in last 10 days:
They are (latest first):
396, 363, 371, 398, 395, 366, 391, 1057, 340, 324
Except for a big one day spike when they put in some belated data, you can see the numbers look almost similar every day.
But see the situation in Tamil Nadu (latest first)
759, 786, 776, 743, 688, 536, 639, 477, 434, 447
Absolutely terrifying. See how the numbers keep rising?
Again, if numbers were to stabilize for TN between 750 to 800, that would be fine too. Almost any number is fine, no matter how high, as long as its stable. Remember that a stable daily figure means that the growth rate is actually falling in percentage terms.
The fear is of going the Maharashtra way and sort of falling over a cliff. Yesterday, Maharashtra reported 2600 new cases. Ten days ago, it was 1495. It is the growth in number of new cases which is the problem, not the high number of cases.
This is when urgent intervention is needed in Chennai. We missed the bus in Mumbai. Big time. We cannot afford to make the same mistake in Chennai.
Of course, right now things are even worse. The whole of India to open up. The pressure and temptation to go back to work is just very high. The frustration and hardship is piling up. But there is no option now.
At the very least, we have the lesson of Mumbai in front of us. The job for Tamil Nadu is to carefully study everything that Maharashtra did over the past month and identify their mistakes.
If you ask me, right now I’d say we could open up most of India.
Even Maharashtra. The disease is concentrated around Mumbai, Thane and Pune. But Maharashtra is a big state. There is absolutely no reason why a place like Nagpur or Nashik has to remain under lockdown.
Bear in mind that Maharashtra is a highly productive, highly industrialized state. So every day of lockdown in every district of Maharashtra is costing the economy billions of $$$.
The same goes for Gujarat and perhaps even more so. With the exception of Ahmedabad, which has 10,000 out of the 13000 cases in the state, almost every other place is safe. Surat has 1200 cases. Bharuch, which is located right next to Surat, has just 37! We can’t keep Bharuch closed because of 37 people. Again, every district in Gujarat that remains closed costs the economy billions of $$$.
Again for Tamil Nadu. With the exception of Chennai, which has 10,000 cases, the state should be opened up. For example, Coimbatore has just 145 cases. Can’t keep the city closed for that.
Like I said, the pandemic is not in states but in cities. If you were to ask me: here’s all that we need to close down for the moment:
Mumbai, Pune, Thane, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Delhi, Jaipur, possibly Jodhpur and Indore as well. Maybe a couple of areas in UP that are too close to the Delhi border.
As for the rest of India, let’s get back to work.