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COVID-19: We Can Beat This - By Neha J Hiranandani

Many of us search for what we can do for others. How can we heal the world, we ask? Well, this is it. Imagine if a month from now, we look around at how we banded together and defeated the biggest global threat of our times. It's our time to shine.

COVID-19: We Can Beat This - By Neha J Hiranandani

Coronavirus: With number of cases rising in India, this is the time to stay home for utmost protection

It was a Wednesday night when my Whatsapp chats started to go crazy. The forwards about COVID-19 are as unstoppable as the virus - those had been on for days - but this was different. India had posed travel restrictions, the likes of which we had never seen before. Visas from all countries were suspended and anyone entering, Indian or not, was subject to quarantine. As Indian nationals currently in the UAE, this put us in a tough spot. We were allowed to enter India but as the advisory informed us, we were to avoid traveling back unless it was absolutely essential. This was an unsettling moment; it felt almost like your parent saying "look, you can come home but don't come unless it's essential". I felt homeless in that moment. Whatsapp chats blew up as family and friends understood the consequences and reconfigured their travel plans.

India was quarantining itself - this was unprecedented but it made complete sense. "It's a boss move" said a cousin on my family chat. I agree. The travel ban is a boss move but as the rising case count shows, it isn't enough. With 83 confirmed cases (at the time of writing), the virus has already breached India's borders. It now has an Indian passport, if you will. And so, India's work is just beginning.

In most places around the world - including India - cases will now rise before they decline. The exceptions to this are most likely Singapore and Hong Kong where infections have likely peaked and are being controlled. The world is facing a severe shortage of COVID-19 testing kits and governments (including India) are scrambling to put together laboratories for testing. Currently India only has 83 laboratory confirmed cases but that's because only approximately 5000 people have been tested in India so far. Just 5000 tests done in 1.1 billion people. South Korea is testing 10,000 people everyday. Think about that for a minute. As the testing increases over the coming weeks, India's cases numbers will rise.

But just as the cases rise in the coming weeks, our willingness to fight COVID must rise too. This is where you and I come in. Last week the message for us was simple: wash your hands. This week the message is simpler still: stay home. Remember Hong Kong that has remarkably controlled COVID despite it basically being an extension of China? That's not an accident. They didn't just get lucky. It's because the people of Hong Kong remember SARS. They remember that a virus, especially a super-spreader one like this, can cripple your country in days. And they remembers what they did to beat it. I spoke to several friends who lived in Hong Kong during the SARS epidemic. They each said the same thing to me this morning: "We were told to stay home and we stayed home."

You are the X factor

2020 has turned the world upside down. Suddenly the havens of the world - Europe and the US - have become the nine rings of hell. The US is on a collision course with severe undertesting, confused messaging from its President and a collapsing public health system. We all know what's happened with Italy - the country has over 18,000 cases in a month with several hundred deaths. People are dying by the hour while Italian physicians make the heartbreaking choice of whose lives to save because they can't save them all. The army is trying to move patients in helicopters. Doctors are working around the clock, with no breaks, many of them infected themselves. COVID-19 has completely destroyed a highly developed health system in a wealthy country in one month. That's the power of this virus.

But as the world turns upside down, we - the travelling elite - have become the risk factor in India. As we stand at the Indian immigration desk after a trip abroad, we also give COVID-19 a passport to India. A group of friends from Delhi were going on ski holiday to Europe last week. "Dekha jayega yaar" one of them replied when I asked why they weren't cancelling the trip. Predictably, the vacation seems to have gone off great - powdery white snow, great restaurants, après ski parties. But coming back to India meant taking connecting flights through Paris and Zurich before landing back to Delhi airport. They have all arrived home healthy but we don't know what came back with them.

Perhaps all of this was summed up best by the Amazon delivery guy who showed up at my friend's doorstep yesterday. He was wearing a mask and she thanked him for wearing it while she received the parcel. He looked at her and responded wryly "Madam aap log travel karte ho. Hum log ko mask pehna padta hai." Touché.

If we're all going to get it then what's the big deal?

I've spent the last hour on the phone with my aunt convincing her that she shouldn't be attending big events - weddings and parties - in Mumbai this week. "But we're all going to get it eventually, right?" she replies "then what's the big deal?" She's partially right; multiple sources have said that COVID-19 is likely to become a yearly infection that most of us will get it eventually. But when we all get it at the same time, then it really does become a big deal.

Our medical system is a fragile resource. As life-giving as they are, doctors are not gods. They are men and women - just like us - and if the population gets sick altogether, they will be overwhelmed. We've seen what happens in China, Iran and Italy when everyone gets sick altogether. People dying in the hallways because there aren't enough respirators for everyone. Hospitals running out of masks and gloves. Doctors getting sick themselves because they're working around the clock, often without protective gear, sleeping in chairs because there is no time to go home.

India has incredible doctors and some of the most well-regarded medical expertise in the world.

But we have to give our doctors, nurses and hospitals a fighting chance. We have to buy them time so that they can get us through this. If we all fall at the same time our medical infrastructure cannot hold us up. They will collapse under the collective weight of the world's second most populous country.

This isn't the flu

This isn't the flu. Iran's burial trenches are so big that they're visible from space.

As you stay home, many people will insist that you're overreacting and believing in a media hype. Ask them to think about which institutions they trust. Do they think of the US government as a gold standard? Well, America just shut down flights from Europe - an unprecedented move. Do they trust universities like Harvard? Harvard just asked students to move out of dorms and not return to campus for the semester. Do they trust someone like Bill Gates, arguably one of the smartest guys around? He just donated millions of dollars to COVID research. He wouldn't have done that if you were just going to get a cold. Or maybe they trust their own Indian government? India just suspended visas for the whole planet - the first time in history. This is not the flu. Make no mistake. This is a crisis.

But we can beat this thing. There is global race for vaccines and drugs. There is already an approved test that can detect COVID 10 times faster. The medical community is on it but we have to help. The next few weeks is our only chance. Dr Bhargava, Director-General of the Indian Council of Medical Research estimates that India has a 30 day window before the spread is uncontainable. "The time to act is now," he says. It is the only window we will ever have.

So go home. Stay home. Spend time with your kids. Pick up that book that you've been meaning to read. Watch a movie at home with your spouse. Sleep in. Cook with your family. Hold them close.

This is not a fait accompli. There are many times that India has snatched itself back from the jaws of disaster. After the plague scare in Surat, we managed to turn Surat into one of the country's cleanest cities. We managed our tsunami-response well. As recently as 2018, India managed to contain the deadly Nipah virus and break the chain of transmission. We have excellent doctors and a community healthcare system that is well-trained after years of polio work. We can do this.

Many of us search for what we can do for others. How can we heal the world, we ask? Well, this is it. Imagine if a month from now, we look around at how we bonded together and defeated the biggest global threat of our times. It's our time to shine.

(Neha J Hiranandani is a writer who lives between Mumbai and Dubai. Having worked for UNICEF and other development organisations across the world, she is deeply interested in creating access to quality education for children everywhere. Neha holds degrees from Wellesley College and Harvard University.)

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