"Severe Curbs Can Cause More Deaths Than Virus": Expert To Rahul Gandhi

"Most places that are affected are nerve centres of globalisation. If people say 9/11 is a chapter, coronavirus is a book," the former Congress chief said,

'Severe Curbs Can Cause More Deaths Than Virus': Expert To Rahul Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi spoke to two health experts this morning via video conference.

New Delhi:

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who has been attacking the government over adversities being faced by lakhs amid coronavirus lockdown, today discussed several burning issues linked to the pandemic with two health experts - Professor Ashish Jha from Harvard University and Professor Johan Giesecke of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

"Most places that are affected (by the pandemic) are nerve centres of globalisation. If people say 9/11 is a chapter, coronavirus is a book," the former Congress chief said, underlining the scale of the pandemic as he was told "this won't be the last pandemic" to hit the world.

A severe lockdown can cause more deaths than the illness, Professor Johan Giesecke told the 49-year-old leader, who began his series of conversations via video conferences with experts last month. Former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan and Nobel Prize winner Abhijit Banerjee were among his first few guests.

"India would ruin its economy if it has a very severe lockdown," Professor Giesecke said adding that coronavirus, which is a "very mild disease", will affect "almost everyone in the world".

"The disease is very mild. Most people who have it are not even aware. While the old and vulnerable need to be protected from the disease, you may cause more deaths due to a severe lockdown than the illness," he added as Mr Gandhi spoke about the plight of the migrants.

As Mr Gandhi questioned both the experts on an exit strategy for the lockdown, the Congress MP from Kerala's Wayanad was told that a "stepwise exit" is more advisable.

"Lockdown buys you time but it's not the goal unto itself. We have to use this time to create a fabulous infrastructure for testing and isolation and to convince people that life will be very different. There is a lot of work that needs to be done. A clear signal is sent to people - you tell them this is much more serious, potentially devastating than any other illness. If people are scared, they will not engage into economic activity. I haven't seen any country that has done this brilliantly," Professor Ashish Jha from Harvard said as Mr Gandhi asked him about psychological impact of the shutdown that was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March. 

The virus will stay for another 12-18 months, Professor Jha said. "This is going to be there till 2021. If vulnerable people are given a time frame, it might be easier for them to deal with the hardships," the expert suggested.

As Mr Gandhi asked him about testing strategies, he said: "Testing everybody is difficult. Strategies like pool testing can be adopted. India has many advantages... one of them is biotech industry. I am not convinced that India cannot test more."

India should develop a plan to make sure that vaccines can reach majority of population, Professor Ashish Jha said. "Three vaccines are showing promising results. These are from America, China and Oxford. For now, they all seem promising -- may be one of them or all turn out to be effective. I am confident that the vaccine will be available by next year. India has to prepare a plan on how to avail vaccines for its population," he said.

One infected person can infect three others, Professor Jha said, stressing that the virus spreads faster in closed spaces than open areas. "This means that Indian joint families are more vulnerable," Rahul Gandhi suggested.

"Coronavirus won't be the last pandemic to hit us. What's different now is globalisation. Most pandemics jump from animals to humans. Climate change is going to make this worse. With more people eating meat, the interaction with animals increases," he said in his concluding remarks.