We must avoid a ‘Second Wave’ (By Ashwin Tombat)

By Ashwin Tombat
03 May 2020 11:19 IST

Even as it extended the lockdown for two more weeks, the Union Health Ministry listed 130 districts in the Red Zone, 284 in the Orange Zone and 319 in the Green Zone. Both of Goa’s districts are in the Green Zone. This means that the only things not allowed to open are:


Goa needs to get back to business and, surprisingly, it seems that the government is on the same page as the experts and the people. It allowed the opening of all standalone shops following the easing of lockdown rules by the centre recently. Now, most other businesses should also be allowed to open.

Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant has prescribed a “modified lifestyle”. This includes sanitization of neighbourhoods, wearing face masks, physical distancing and staying at home as far as possible.

This is vitally important. Until we have a vaccine or a cure, this highly contagious virus can be stopped only by breaking the chain of transmission; by strict physical distancing outside the home.   

But we can and must get back to work. Too many Goans are deprived of their livelihoods right now. The CM has received representations from barbers, taxi operators, motorcycle pilots, videographers, liquor shop owners… the list goes on and on.

If people cannot earn their daily bread, the toll from the economic fallout may turn out to be worse than the number of deaths from the virus. The problem is that a slow, sequential opening of different parts of the economy will mean that recovery will be painfully slow.

Except for containment zones, the lockout must be lifted comprehensively by the 49th day on 12 May, Chairman of the Mahindra Group Anand Mahindra said on Tuesday. He is absolutely correct. Unless the whole value chain is made operational, businesses cannot really get going. For example, until weddings are allowed, how can videographers make a living? Until tourism makes a comeback, how will taxi operators get customers?

It is important, therefore, that the government allows opening of each and every kind of business that can safely operate with physical distancing. It also needs to vigorously lobby with the central government to obtain immediate financial relief for the newly unemployed, and for businesses that are simply unable to function in the present circumstances.

Health Minister Vishwajit Rane – who has done a remarkable job to keep Goa Covid-free – needs to set down protocols for businesses like barbers and hair dressers to open up. How long can people go without haircuts? He also needs to develop norms for gyms, cinema theatres, hotels and restaurants to open with safe physical distancing, as and when the centre allows it. Malls may have to wait for longer.

In countries across the world, there is an ongoing debate about how soon to lift a lockdown and open up the economy. The reason that experts advocate extreme caution in relaxing a lockdown is the prospect of a deadly ‘second wave’, like in the last worldwide pandemic, which happened over 100 years ago, in 1918.

The 1918 influenza pandemic — mistakenly called the ‘Spanish Flu’ since it actually originated in the United States — infected 50 crore people worldwide and caused between 2 crore to 5 crore deaths over two years — more than all the soldiers and civilians killed during the 1914-18 World War I combined.

The Spanish flu first appeared in early March 1918, at an army camp in Kansas, USA, and spread quickly among the 54,000 troops there. By the end of March, 1,100 troops were hospitalized and 38 died of pneumonia.

US troops went to war in Europe, carrying the Spanish Flu with them, and the virus spread like wildfire through England, France, Spain and Italy. Three-fourths of French troops and half of British soldiers were infected.

But the first wave of the virus wasn’t particularly deadly; high fever usually lasted only three days. Mortality rates were similar to seasonal flu.

Spanish Flu infections seemed to reduce over the summer of 1918 and, there was hope that the virus had run its course. But in Europe, a potent mutant strain of the virus had developed that could kill within 24 hours of the first signs of infection.

In late August 1918, troops infected with this new, deadlier strain of Spanish Flu sailed back home. Lockdowns had been lifted at the end of summer. The soldiers went home and spread this new potent strain of the virus in their communities. In October 1918 alone, around 1.95 lakh Americans died from the Spanish Flu. By December 1918, this deadly second wave of the Spanish flu had passed, but it left around 6.75 lakh Americans dead. Besides, it caused havoc at the other end of the world, in Australia, in 1919.

For those who believe that India's warmer temperatures will kill the virus, there is a sobering thought; in 1918, India's heat failed to stop it. In fact, India suffered the highest death toll in the world from Spanish Flu. Between 1 crore to 1.5 crore Indians died from September to December in the ‘second wave’ of the 1918 pandemic; India’s total deaths in all three waves numbered between 1.2 crore and 1.7 crore.  

Scientists fear that a premature lifting of all restrictions may cause a second wave of Covid-19 in September or October this year, which may be much more deadly than the ongoing one. Goa and India need to relentlessly maintain physical distancing and personal hygiene to avoid a second wave, as they work to bring life back to normal.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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Nice article.Very true. If we don't maintain proper distancing we would be in trouble

- Sudesh Prabhudesai , Margao | 03 rd May 2020 18:12


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