Perspectives from ISB

On top of everyone’s mind is when will the COVID-19 nightmare end? Based on the modelling done by Rajesh Singh and B. Adhikari, illustrated in the figure above, which is making waves in the governmental and corporate circles in the country, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, hopefully we humans will come out of this experience chastised.

What are these scenarios presented in the article by Rajesh Singh and B. Adhikari?

The Prime Minister of India has taken an incredibly bold step to lock down the country. He did this in two stages: the first was a one-day ‘dress rehearsal’ titled ‘Janata Curfew’ on Sunday, March 22, 2020. Given the gravity of COVID-19, none of us were naïve to believe that this day lockout would be full and final, and the saga would end with that day of voluntary confinement, interspaced with five minutes of applauding the COVID-19 warriors who were battling it out on the front lines. It was merely ‘testing the waters’ and preparing the nation for a prolonged lockdown.
Sure enough, two days later, starting from the midnight of March 24, 2020, the country had to brace down for a total lockdown. The Prime Minister was at his communicative best during the 8 pm national live broadcast on March 24, hours before the lockdown, appealing to people as an elder in their respective families. He mentioned that this would be much harsher and more long-drawn than the trailer that preceded it. The short duration to enforcement (just four hours) was to ensure that people do not indulge in hoarding. He tried to assuage the blow by stating that essential commodities and services would continue. He also announced a war chest of Rs. 15,000 cr. to bolster the health system in the country to deal with this unprecedented crisis. This was followed quickly a few days later by an announcement of Rs. 1.7 lakh crores bail-out package by the Finance Minister. The perhaps unanticipated consequence was massive re-migration to native villages and towns by migrant workers, with ensuing heart-rending saga of sufferings. The Prime Minister addressed this in his monthly Mann ki baat, apologising to those who may be angry with the lockdown, but stating that it was inevitable. To arrest further mass re-migration, the government has advised all states to stop the migrations. How successful they will be in this endeavour, only time will tell. While these appear to be knee-jerk reactions to the evolving scenarios, it is to be expected, as there is no collective memory in the country on how to deal with these ‘maha maaris’ that the Prime Minister repeatedly referred to in his March 24 address to the nation.
What all of us are concerned with is whether this nightmare will ever end. This is where the research by Rajesh Singh and B. Adhikari, both from acclaimed institutions, gives us hope for better days. The figures above are self-explanatory. At the expense of redundancy, a quick interpretation of those figures: A 21-day lockout will not serve any purpose; the epidemic will rear its ugly head after 21 days, with vengeance [Figure (a)]. In panic, the natural reaction while seeing the upswing after 21 days, is to reintroduce another lockdown, albeit longer (28 days), with five days of intervening respite [Figure (b)] with ditto results at the end. Figure (c) takes us closer to the end goal of eradication, with an 18-day clampdown after a five day hiatus. However, the suffering will have to be endured till June 10, 2020, with total lockdown being 21+28+18 = 67 days, and 10 days respite in-between. The final alternative is to bite the bullet and go for total eradication in one painful burst of 49 days lockdown [Figure (d)]. Knowing the propensity of the federal government and their propensity to find total, yet bitter solutions rather than populist measures, we can expect the (d) scenario to play out. So ,friends, hold your horses! The end is in sight. Let’s continue to be optimistic and use the time to rejuvenate and redirect our lives to loftier heights.

Post No. 1, D.V.R. Seshadri, March 28, 2020