Acknowledgment: Thanks to the IK Editors for suggesting this article and for their valuable feedback and pointers.
Covid-19: A Worst-Case Estimate
The current Covid-19 Crisis is not a ‘Black Swan’ as explained by author and mathematician Nassim Taleb in this interview . On the other hand, six months since its birth in Communist China, much about this Corona virus remains unknown to the general public. Given this, it is worth revisiting the worst-case scenario for India.
Covid’s infection rate has been rated to be ‘worse than Flu’ but ‘better than Measles’. The required percentage of a population to achieve herd immunity  is given by 100*(1- 1/R0). The basic reproductive number R0 for Covid-19 was initially estimated to be between 2 and 3. An updated median estimate of 5.7 has also been reported . This yields an infected population range between 50% and 82%. Using a seasonal-flu average fatality rate of ~0.1%, this translates to an order of a million dead in India and many more incapacitated. A 1% or higher mortality rate raises this number to around 10 million. Given that India’s fatality rate has been relatively low and recoveries high, the worst case may be closer to the lower estimate. However, we must remember that unlike many other countries, our elders, who belong to the high-risk category, usually live with their children and grandchildren. Independent of the fatality rate, countries where widespread Covid infections persist will comprise the ‘infected hemisphere’ (‘red zone’) and may be isolated from the ‘recovered hemisphere’ (‘green zone’).
India has managed well so far (Jan 15 – May 15, 2020) due to various containment measures that have significantly slowed the infection rate and shielded the elderly and sick who face the highest risk. This has also limited the number of simultaneous hospitalizations and casualties, and bought precious time. Leaders are aware that the human response to magnitudes is nonlinear. The public reaction to short-term peaks tends to overshadow the reaction to the larger cumulative count over an extended time period.
Rajya and Rashtra in the Covid Response
The Indian government (Rajya) recognized the disastrous implications of Covid-19 early and came up with a series of calibrated measures to contain the spread. The Rashtra (a Sanskrit non-translatable as explained by Rajiv Malhotra) rose in unison to this call to duty and the critical early phase of the crisis (Jan-Apr 2020) was managed well.
Ways in which the Rashtra gained from early Covid shocks
- Family and local community ties were strengthened in the face of adversity. India’s sacred geography too was rejuvenated by the pollution-free environment.
- Healthier diet. Availability of locally sourced seasonal produce to prepare traditional Indian ‘cuisine as medicine’ at home that boosted immunity and represented a return to dharma traditions. This was a welcome break from the processed ‘junk food’ sold by MNCs. This cheap tamasic food sold to the poor in the US is marketed in India as desirable ‘high end’ cuisine.
- Return to deep culture. Millions of home-bound Indian families reconnected and advanced through televised lessons from our sacred Itihasa-Mahakavya even as westernized audiences retreated into religion or binged on escapist secular fare.
- More self-organized. ‘Think global, act local’ solutions to problems in the neighborhood were improvised. The traditional Hindu emphasis on family and household savings put them in a relatively better position to deal with a short-term loss in income. It is possible that India Uninc  and families acted like a decentralized shock absorber that bore the brunt of multiple lockdowns and prevented wholesale collapse. While a detailed study is required to ascertain this impact of India Uninc, one cannot but notice the individualistic consumption-driven affluent economies struggling through even brief, partial business closures, and requiring huge printed cash injections to stay afloat.
Examples of the Rajya’s positive interventions
- Banking on India’s ingenious ability to adapt, improvise and expand capacities to mass produce all kinds of essential goods, thereby also sending a strong message to its friendly neighbors.
- Making effective use of the different modes of transportation available in India. These diverse options include Udan air connections, the extensive railway network, trucking, and even the postal network for last-mile delivery of essentials. In the US, massive quantities of unsold plant and dairy produce were destroyed in the midst of grocery shortages at other locations.
- The prior projections of the critical Sagarmala logistics project that were decimated by the Covid pandemic are being updated and new plans (less fragile and more robust, hopefully) for India’s maritime sector are being drawn up.
- Timely export of surplus critical medicine that earned much international goodwill.
- Encouraging announcements regarding the initial economic relief package for those most affected by lock-downs was a step in the right direction. The challenge of raising money remains a serious issue as a recent article pointed out .
Covid Trends and Projections
The early successes are reflected in the steady decline in the percentage increase in transmission rates until the end of April. However, this rate has not changed much since then and a steady multiplicative increase in new cases has been the norm.
The next plot shows the resultant increase in the confirmed cases added daily through May 23. Beyond this date, the figure depicts a range of optimistic future projections for the cases that are likely to be added every day.
There is a possibility of these daily numbers trebling (yellow) or dropping after a marginal increase (grey). The red curve represents an ‘average’ trajectory and optimistically projects these numbers to double at their peak around the end of June. The estimated cumulative cases (area under a curve) through the end of July 2020 range between 4 Lakh (grey) to more than 10 Lakh (yellow). These numbers were significantly lower just a month ago and will change by the time this article is published. It is quite possible that these curves may not zero out as optimistically as projected above but persist until herd immunity is attained . After all, the mathematical models used to generate predictions come with their own assumptions and bias. These plots point to the degree of uncertainty still facing that the Rajya’s decision makers.
India now ranks high in terms of daily cases added even as many other countries that struggled in March and April begin to trend downward. There is a chance that this ‘recovered hemisphere’ may be open fully for international commerce and trade exchanges even as India grapples with widespread infections in densely populated urban centers (independent of its benign fatality and recovery rate). If India manages to contain the Covid spread and simultaneously strengthens its indigenous capabilities, it only stands to gain.
Multiple Modes of Fragility
A necessary condition for a safe and graceful exit from lock-downs is that the Rashtra and its governance arm, Rajya be fully aligned in terms of the methods and objectives.
Persistent points of fragility are therefore the weakest Rajya↔Rashtra links that unravel this alignment (resulting in a unity that is less integral and more synthetic ) and degrade a country’s response capabilities to threats.
This fragility may determine the magnitude of damage and the time by which the situation is brought under control.
Six dimensions of Rajya↔Rashtra fragility in the Covid context are listed below:
- Demography is not only destiny but a lived reality today. Numerous dense urban population clusters living in close proximity and mixing freely in an open society can cause infections to spread more easily. If the Rajya does not plan even now, the next bio-crisis will be far worse.
- Synthetic Unity  within the Rajya. The lack of cooperation by state governments that do not belong to the ruling party is a serious barrier to coordinating the actions required to contain Covid spread. Such state governments try to optimize only their own welfare with no regard for the Rashtra. Another issue is top-down governance and lack of accountability due to which local problems are ignored. That such issues surface repeatedly indicates systemic flaws in the existing Rajya setup.
- Defense against next-generation warfare: India has uniquely abominable neighbors. One created the bio-threat and the other is a war-criminal state that promotes bio-Jihad via proxies in India. China and Pakistan have escalated cross-border violence in parallel. Breaking India forces coordinate with these neighbors and with global left- and right-wing organizations to wage information warfare and sow discord in the Rashtra.
- Millennia old Hindu models of localized supply chains for essentials, decentralized livelihood , and development in harmony with Rta  are being replaced with centralized top-down industrial models that have among other things, produced a massive number of stranded traveling workers. Managing these transient unemployed populations has become a costly and challenging exercise. It has spawned a fresh wave of atrocity literature by Breaking India forces, which will be followed by Evangelists mass converting them out of Hinduism while the Rajya plays the fiddle.
- Corruption at mid and lower tiers of the Rajya. The Rajya’s misguided political correctness is also a form of corruption that did not tackle bio-Jihad head-on and hurt the Rashtra’s morale. Mismanagement by inept and corrupt state governments further diluted containment measures and as a result, India’s financial capital, Mumbai may become an epicenter of infections. Let us try to quantify the economic price paid by India for bio-jihad and corruption during the Covid crisis: Suppose we attribute only a quarter of Modi ji’s economic rebuilding package, i.e., 2.5% of India’s GDP as the cost of 12 weeks of lockdown. Then, an additional week of delay in India’s resumption of economic activity represents roughly 0.2% of GDP. This is a guesstimate of the price being paid by the Rashtra for political correctness and corruption during a national emergency. History books mention how Maharana Pratap dealt with law breakers during a crisis. Attempts to raise money from Hindu Temple Assets (e.g. TTD) is another example of corruption.
- Growing influence of the academic scientist-philosopher sans Darshana (which is different from philosophy ). Social media and TV savvy academics remain unaware of the low-probability high-consequence considerations in a Rajya’s decision making process. They cannot grasp the asymmetrical consequences of decisions made under uncertainty  but boldly state theories on prime-time TV that they will not first test on themselves, their families, and friends. Their contributions are positive as long as they remain the comic relief within theatrical layer above the Rajya and Rashtra, but can turn disastrous if their self-important noise is allowed to drown critical signals.
In all this tumult is one heroic constant. The Jawans at the border and their officers who lead from the front, continue to give up their lives and their family’s happiness, in staggering numbers on home soil so that the Rashtra as a whole may live on.
A Rashtra’s defense forces represent Lakshmana who maintains a ceaseless vigil and we must strive to emulate Sita-Rama during these difficult times and beyond to become worthy of their unimaginable sacrifices.
Shivoham is a follower of Sri Rajiv Malhotra’s works. He has a doctorate in engineering and is a student of Bharatiya Ganita traditions. He blogs at indicportal.org and is active on twitter @integralunity. View More.
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