Lessons from India and Michigan

Submitted by AWL on 27 April, 2021 - 7:27 Author: Martin Thomas

Covid cases and deaths in India have rocked since early March, and scanty hospital provision has been overwhelmed in some areas. On the official count, India’s Covid death rate per population is still only what the UK’s was in mid-March, mid-October, or mid-June, and way below the highest rates seen in the UK or in countries like Brazil. However, in India only 22% of deaths are medically certified with a cause of death. The real rate may be much higher.

The world Covid death rate has been rising again since mid-March, and is now higher than it has ever been, bar a peak around late January.

A possible factor in India is the spread of a new variant, B.1.167. An almost certain factor is the federal government’s decision, after cases had been steadily declining from a peak in mid-September to a low in February, to trash Covid restrictions. A crowded religious festival, attended by 3.5 million people travelling from all over, was licensed in April, and looks to have been a “super-spreader” event.

India’s plight is a call to beware for countries like Britain which have seen cases falling, and where the idea that the pandemic is “almost over” may spread prematurely.

Another such signal is given by Michigan. There, the seven-day running-average case rate has risen almost eightfold from late February to late April. Michigan, unlike India but like the rest of the USA, has a fairly high vaccination rate, so the death rate has risen less (about fourfold), but it is still rising. Chile has seen something similar: it has a higher vaccination rate than Britain, but saw a huge rise in cases from late February, only now levelling off. A factor there is spread of the P.1 and P.2 variants from Brazil after travel restrictions were eased.

Chile introduced new lockdowns. Michigan hasn’t. Its governor, Gretchen Whitmer, eased restrictions on 2 March just as the new spike was starting, and hasn’t reversed the easing. In Michigan as elsewhere in the USA, big-city schools have remained mostly closed; but almost everything else, bars, cafés, churches, sports places, is open, only with some restrictions on numbers and a requirement to wear a mask if you’ve not had two jabs.

Michigan’s case rate looks like easing off now. Michael Zaroukian, manager at a hospital in Lansing, guesses that “people are... being more cautious... spring break is over… [indoor] winter sports... are over now”. But it is precarious. And meanwhile hundreds have died.

Whitmer had her State House stormed by an armed gang in April 2020 demanding she ease restrictions then, and was the target of a kidnap plot over which 14 people were arrested in October 2020.

In October 2020, the Republican-majority Supreme Court ruled that Whitmer could not use emergency powers to extend Covid restrictions. The Republican-majority state legislature had sued her months before, and in early April voted to authorise suing her again over Covid restrictions and funds.

Whitmer is a mainstream Democrat and was relatively quick to lock down in spring 2020. It looks like she has been pushed into easing precautions by fear of the pro-Trump right.

In Europe, pressure from the anti-lockdown right is weaker. But Michigan is a warning. Workers’ control over workplace safety! Full isolation pay for all! Bring social care into the public sector!

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