Data under lockdown

Kashmir Times. Dated: 5/18/2020 11:19:05 PM

By cloaking statistics, facts related to virus, economic and sociological impact, the Indian govt is queering its fight against Covid-19

India's lockdown has entered its fourth phase with the daily increase of Covid-19 patients, almost on a steady rise, and nearing the 1 lakh mark. The early lockdown may have helped contain the numbers but the reality is still not clear with insufficient data in the public domain. Added to that is the convenient policy of the government to skirt the other related issues of how the corona virus phenomenon is impacting various spheres of life. The government cannot use the pandemic as an excuse to lockdown all kinds of facts and data that are important to understand the scale and nature of the disease, the country's ability to fight in terms of human resource, financial resource, technology and infrastructure and the impact of the epidemic on the socio-economic life or the psychological health of the public. The regular statistic with respect to Covid-19 pertains simply to the number of people affected, numbers treated and numbers dead. Rest is obfuscated in jugglery of words. According to latest figures available on Monday, India has 97,577 Corona Virus positive cases, out of which 3041 have died and 36,824 recovered. Unfortunately, the official data on Covid-19 is being cloaked in secrecy with details of the number of patients tested for the virus as well as with the number of Covid-19 test kits available right now. Whatever data is available is misleading. While officials claimed last week that number of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) tests carried out in India crossed the 2 million mark and union health minister triumphantly maintained that the country has also crossed the daily capacity of 100,000 tests. Mathematically, this would square up to around 1,540 people per million of India's population. While this might be a major improvement from 94.5 per million population it was testing in late March but India still remains at the bottom in the ratio of tests conducted. Besides, the 2 million figure would be further misleading since the sample tests are being counted and it is being wrongly presumed that the same number of people have been tested in all. This over-simplification does not take into account the multiple Covid-19 tests being run on the positive patients during their isolation period or the test samples that have gone missing from the collection centres to the laboratories. Six samples were reported missing in Bijbehara, as reported by this newspaper, and many such reports have surfaced but been lost into oblivion. Whether these are mere aberrations or the callousness much worse can be gauged only if the information and facts were not being so closely guarded by the government.
Data is also missing on how much the PM Cares Fund has collected and what it is being spent on. Last week, the prime minister dished out a Rs 20 lakh crore package, followed by union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman rolling out its details. While much of the package is either a gala loan mela or already part of the existing budget and Reserve Bank of India is being roped in to partially foot the bill. There is still no transparency about the PM Cares Fund and whether any expenditure has been made from a hurriedly created fund, in utter violation of existing norms. Data with respect to one of the major issues that has plagued the country since the lockdown - that of the sufferings of the migrant workers and the paltry relief reached out to them - simply does not exist two months on. The plan for their return is marked with similar inconsistency, and the eye-washing claims that Centre would pay for 85 percent of the train fares, revealing government's cold callousness and insensitivity. The country's fight against the Coronavirus and its multiple fallouts is difficult to assess when the data is being kept under a lockdown. Effective policies require not just factoring in facts and ground-realities but also transparency of data. Unless this is done, with a sense of immediacy, the two-month long nation-wide lockdown may as well turn into a sheer waste.



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