just how bad it can get

Written by a correspondent in Delhi from The Economist:

Correspondent’s diary


India’s second wave of covid-19 feels nothing like its first


Holed up in Delhi, where friends are falling ill too fast to count


Diary


Apr 30th 2021


DELHI


WE ARE AMID an ocean of human suffering but cannot see it. Having returned abruptly to the kind of isolation we hoped we had put behind us months ago, my wife, our two little boys and I are staying put in our nice flat, in a leafy “colony” near the centre of Delhi. Our new rule is strict: we do not go outside for any reason. The past 12 months have trained us well enough for that; these routines are well-worn, for parents and children. We grown-ups however cannot stay away from our phones, and so peace of mind is a distant memory. My wife just called from downstairs. Her friend’s brother-in-law needs an oxygen concentrator or he is likely to die at home. If we find one for him (and she is already working her connections), can we scrounge enough cash to buy another, for ourselves?


The mind’s eye is filled with pictures of desperate families scrambling after oxygen cylinders, failing more often than not. All day the early-summer heat has me picturing bodies, bagged and stacked on the pavement, waiting their turn for the pyres that burn everywhere across the city. Sometimes I switch off the screen in my home office on the second floor and step onto the roof terrace to water potted plants and scan the neighbourhood below. All is quiet and green. Smoke from the crematorium down the street has disappeared into the usual haze of the season. Our small park is more leaf-blown than usual, but someone has been watering there too. A security guard at the corner is wearing his mask, but he’s been doing that for a year now, as if the past month were nothing new. In contrast to the first lockdown, the milkman is still coming and newspapers are being delivered.


Yet everything has changed, with a speed that we still cannot comprehend. My family had hunkered down much harder than most. We kept our social life in forfeit and wore masks outdoors, if not always at the playground. We had come to seem like laggards within India. Most of this country began to relax after September if not earlier, as the caseload started to drop. Just last month I started travelling again—I was road-tripping through weekly markets, sampling country liquor offered by strangers for a cute feature story, then watching a jubilant political rally fill a small town’s bazaar. Days later I was dandling my two-year-old on my lap at an airport, sharing his first iced lolly. Those were the before times. A fortnight later, back in Delhi, I find that more than half of my friends have covid-19, in their families if not in their own bodies. Acquaintances are dying faster than they can be counted. I read in the papers that the forestry department is clear-cutting parkland to feed more wood to those pyres.


The official news outlets also bring the daily statistics: 386,000 new infections today, 208,000 dead counted since the pandemic began. Between the lines, it is possible to read the disclaimers too. If only 1.7m tests are being conducted per day, what can that 386,000 really mean? Is it that 0.0004% of the country has come down with the virus since yesterday, or that nearly 23% did? That would be 314m people, nearly the whole population of America. Obviously, the true number lies between those absurd extremes, but who knows where? The statistics about death tolls are more nakedly false. It is plain that thousands are dying every day, but who, where and exactly how many we cannot know, thanks to some petty deceptions but mostly sheer confusion. I get a better sense from the piecemeal reporting in Indian websites covering, say, the smaller towns and cities of Uttar Pradesh, where none of the official line can be trusted, than from my fellow observers forced to stay in the capital.


But the saddest and also the most terrifying accounts all come via the phone, in texts or panicked voices. Everyone is ill and no one can find medical help. Stating the obvious, the American embassy mass-messages, “Access to all types of medical care is becoming severely limited in India due to the surge in Covid-19 cases” and concludes that my fellow Americans should make plans to leave the country “as soon as it is safe to do so”. Social-media feeds are an endless list of pleas on behalf of the dying. A friend from Lucknow, living in New York, writes elegant, almost daily obituaries for friends from his hometown—three of them, I can’t help noting, are my age, and at least one was, also like me, fully vaccinated.


I have a nightly ritual of phone calls to check on friends within a two-mile radius. An elderly woman has recovered, but feels distraught that her neighbours across the street both died. Another friend’s aunt is still ailing but in the meantime her husband died—I hadn’t heard he was infected. Newborn twins, their parents and their nanny are all running a fever in tandem. A WhatsApp group set up by foreign journalists to discuss visa issues has become another place to plead for help finding medical supplies. It informs me that the clinic where I found my own second dose of AstraZeneca a week ago has run out of vaccines. Only 1.8% of the country has been fully vaccinated and it is anybody’s guess how long it will take to manufacture or import the roughly 2bn doses we are left wanting.


Watching the other international correspondents fall ill and scramble to leave tends to make me want to stay behind these locked doors, with my potted plants and boisterous little kids. Appliances may be breaking down, but our groceries keep coming and the WiFi works. An NGO in Delhi counts more than 100 Indian journalists who have died of covid-19, 52 of them this month. For their bravery, I am able to read about those pyres, without having to risk seeing them for myself.


This horror is noticed abroad. Messages from faraway friends I haven’t seen in years convince me of that. They are worried for us and I am happy to reassure them that we four are fine, relieved to be talking about the situation from the bird’s-eye view of my terrace. Much easier on the nerves than ringing up the next-door neighbour to find out whether our mutual friend is still alive.


But my long-distance conversations convince me that something has been lost in the transmission. These well-read friends in Europe, America and East Asia never understood how different the past year of covid was, here in India—and so they cannot understand what it feels like now to hit the vertical wall of this so-called second wave. I struggle to convey that we have not been on a wavy ride, like Britain’s or some American states’. Look at the shape of our graphs. Our first surge was scary, but tapered away like the tail of a paper tiger. The virus had spread everywhere during 2020, no doubt, despite a brutal lockdown and other efforts at containment. Sero-positivity surveys conducted in some cities showed that majorities of large populations had been exposed to the coronavirus and developed antibodies to it. But Indian bodies resisted it, perhaps, they say, because of “cross immunity” gained unnoticed over lifetimes lived amid the barrage of everyday germs. The rickety hospitals stayed afloat too, and eventually their covid wards emptied. By the beginning of 2021 we were saying that 150,000 Indians had died. For perspective: three times as many die from tuberculosis every year. “At the beginning of this pandemic, the whole world was worried about India’s situation,” the prime minister, Narendra Modi, recalled in a triumphal mood only in February. “But today India’s fight against corona is inspiring the entire world.”


India fought a phony war and—by dumb luck—it won. Then suddenly, less than three weeks ago, our world turned upside down. Having taken credit for his country’s divine good fortune of last year, Mr Modi will want to shrug off blame for the second wave, as if it were an act of God which no preparation could have averted or even lessened. There is a lot to say about what could have been done instead. Yet without any of the government’s self-serving intentions, many of the rest of us feel convinced that a different disease has emerged since our year-long dry run began. Covid-21 I find myself calling it.


The facts one would need to build that case stay stubbornly out of reach. The available genomic analysis shows that the distinctively Indian “double mutant” variant, B.1.617, is prevalent in some parts of the country but not in Delhi, where the Kentish B.1.1.7 is like wildfire. India is woefully behind in sequencing its strains, having only announced a genomic consortium in December 2020 and then funding it only in March.


What is clear to clinicians, as opposed to the boffins, is that covid-21 is more transmissible than the kind we saw last year. A doctor friend tells another friend in her podcast that this is “much much more contagious, much much more transmissible than the wild variety of covid-19.” It used to be that just one member of a household might catch it. Now everyone does. In our extended family, in Kolkata, 13 of 15 people under one roof became infected before any showed symptoms.


Its “immune-escape” mutations are formidable. Being vaccinated, I am sensitive to the stories of inoculated people falling ill—which could not be more common, in my social circles—and even dying. The vaccines are saving lives, no doubt. Deaths among the fully vaccinated are rare; I hear of them only among friends of friends of friends, like the poor 25-year-old lab technician in a hospital whose best friend teaches German to a pal of mine over Zoom.
Which brings us to the fact that this time young people and even children are developing symptoms, including an erstwhile quarantine-playmate of our four-year-old. Younger adults are becoming severely ill, as they did not last year. Finally, those people who have had the disease twice, a plentiful category thanks to that “immune-escape” feature, say that the reinfection feels different. The fever comes quicker and they are more prone to developing pneumonia.
Dumb, divine luck with covid-19, and now the bad luck of covid-21, as if it were retribution. That is the way it feels to those of us who find ourselves without access to reliable aggregations of information, but awash in personal anecdotes. I suspect that someday biomedical research may prove that the two kinds of luck were connected, but we will have to wait years for that.


For now there is much outrage. Maybe Mr Modi’s government will pay a price for its blunders and complacency. I suspect that this is mostly expressed as a wishful diversion, in tragic pursuit of a silver lining. That would be a way for my part of Delhi, those who have the privilege of sitting at home and contemplating escape, to take a break from our primary occupations: fear and sorrow.

disconnect everything you can

Recently, a town of 15K people near Tampa, Florida nearly had their entire water supply poisoned by a hacker. Somebody hacked the system and increased the lye content of the water to poison levels. Only the actions of a very alert employee (who should be the guest of honor at the next Super Bowl) saved 15K people from drinking poison.

Guess what, nobody cares. To me, this should be front page news for a week. To others, the Brittney Spears documentary and the Aunt Jemima rebrand are more important. These news articles go above the near poisoning of 15K Americans, which is off the front page after less than a day. So this is another reminder of how debased and useless the modern media is.

I can’t stress this enough, disconnect everything you can. I’m a former loser computer science major. I’ve never used computer science, but am still a loser. If you have four hours, give me a shout and I’ll explain to you in intricate detail just how unsecure the Internets is.

You cannot secure the Internets. At its most basic 0 and 1 level, it can’t ever be totally secure. This goes back to how the founders of the Internets designed the backstage to be totally open and freewheeling. When these dudes made the Internet’s core coding and theory, security wasn’t even on their top 100 concerns.

I was helping my Ma troubleshoot her fridge this weekend, spoiler alert, never buy an LG fridge. In the manual they have Wi-Fi instructions. Why does your fridge need to connect to the Internets? Soon your freaking pacemaker will be. What the fuck are people thinking? I think they don’t understand just how unsecure this all is. The “Internet-of-Things” is a fucking dystopian nightmare in waiting.

You need a phone and a computer to connect to the Internets. Oh, and a gaming console, if that’s your thing. Disconnect everything else. As the bumbled coronavirus response has shown, if you’re counting on the government to protect you, you have the wrong idea. You have to protect yourself.

everybody died today

The news is a funny thing. Lots going on in the world, but especially people dying. I think today I saw the following people have commuted to Valhalla:

– Sigfried or Roy, I can’t remember which one, but I think this means both are now getting mauled by tigers in Valhalla as drunk mead swilling goons laugh at them

– Some Survivor contestant, which means one of like 3,487 people because for some reason that stupid show still exists

– Some actress that at least a few people have heard of that was on some show or movie I’ve never seen

I think that makes it about 1/5 of the news articles on the front pages of the news I read. I didn’t click on these articles, but there they were, in my face. And I wouldn’t say I read trash news or gossip or celebrity sites. I’ve got my beef with the media, but it’s not like I’m reading TMZ.

I’m not wishing for people to go, and it sucks when anybody dies. Well, unless you’re Hilter, Stalin, a card carrying member of Al Qaeda or ISIS, or if you love & religious profess Crossfit. But it doesn’t mean you deserve front page news when you check out to the next realm.

I mean when like Sean Connery checked out, that’s front page news. Same with Leonard Nimoy. Otherwise, back page please, let check out time come quietly for most.

words do in fact matter

A common theme on this degenerate blog for the past four years has been not what Trump does, but what covering Trump has done to the media. Trump has always had a clock running, and now it expires in two weeks. But those who cover him will still be here. And Trump has driven them insane. They’ve mortgaged their credibility to get one man, one guy, who’s soon to be gone.

The last few days the word “coup” has appeared in just about every publication I read. The idea is that Trump will attempt a coup in the next two weeks to stay in office. Do these folks really understand what they’re writing? Words do in fact matter.

According to my bookcase dictionary, a coup is:

“a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government”

Note the word: violent.

So when somebody writes coup, to me that means they think Trump is going to put the 82nd Airborne Division on the DC streets within the next two weeks and have them shoot people in the face. Really? Do they really, actually believe that? Because if they do, they’re literally bat shit crazy, insane.

Or, they’re using an explosive, irresponsible word to describe the back and forth of politics in our current toxic political climate. A political climate that isn’t going to get any better just because Biden drops his suitcase onto the White House bedroom floor.

They even got a bunch of former Defense Secretaries (most of whom are total losers) to sign a letter asking Trump not to do this “coup” thing. Do all these former Defense Secretaries think so little of the armed forces that they once led, that America’s armed forces are idiotic automatons who will do whatever Trump says without regard to their oath and honor? I guess the answer is yes. I guess?

Gee wiz, I wonder what’s going to happen to all these people when Trump’s gone and they have to live in the real world again. And not a world where they have a crayon drawing of Trump on the bathroom wall where he has devil horns they drew. I think they’ll have like a withdrawal, like they’re coming off some drug. Getting hooked on meth would have been wiser the last four years.

they did it again

If you were foolish enough to read yesterday’s humorous post, this needs no further explanation.  Here’s another news publication that thinks its readers are big dummy heads.  Courtesy of the Washington Post:

But unlike yesterday’s photo where the vial liquid was clear, the Post has decided to color their liquid blue and red.  What?  What the fuck is this?  Vaccines aren’t colored like they’re jello or a kids coloring book.

The nurse walks up to you, and he’s like, “This covid vaccine comes in two doses.  This blue doze is half chlorinated pool water.  The red doze is half komodo dragon blood.  You’ll be fine.  Only half my covid vaccine patients have expired within the first 48 hours.  Now then, roll up your sleeve, dear patient friend.”

The media is so, so angry that folks don’t wear masks, hate science, treat covid as a joke.  Well, when the media treats folks intellectually as fourth-grader-big-dummy-heads, and then creates colored childlike cartoon pictures of the vaccine?  Well, why should they be surprised if folks don’t take this shit seriously?

Man, the South Koreans, Taiwanese, Australians, Japanese, New Zealanders, and Chinese must look at the rest of the planet as a complete joke filled with goons right now.  Maybe we should let them rule the world for say, oh the next few decades or so.  Just to see if things improve a little.

behold how dumb the media thinks you are

This covid vaccine thing, it’s pretty obscure.  Not really a topic anybody the planet is familiar with.  Nowhere near the top of their brains.  There’s no possible way you could know about this, right?

Behold this stupidity.

This was on the BBC, with the photo having been generated by Getty.  We have four vaccine vials, and a syringe, with Getty having made four white labels with a cheap label maker, “COVID-19 VACCINE”.  Because the media thinks you the reader are too dumb to realize what the picture meant if they just left the vials as clear without labels.

Strangely, if you look at this picture they also have a bit of white powder atop glass.  Has Getty gotten in on the coke game?  Hell, if I had to work for Getty I’d need to be high at work all day.  I’d rather be employed in Chairman Kim’s Palace Square Anti-Aircraft Gun Branch.

Anyways, we at TAP are here to help.  Here’s a finely detailed list of what you the reader would have thought was in those vials if your friendly media buddies hadn’t stepped in to help you think for yourself with those labels.  This is in order of priority, behold the vast wisdom on display here, bow before our superior knowledge, you know nothing, we know everything:

1) COVID-19 Vaccine

2) COVID-19 Vaccine

3) Water

4) COVID-19 Vaccine

5) Medical Serum

6) Acid

7) Magic Liquid Giving Recipient Sorcerer/Sorceress Powers

8) Nuclear Reactor Waste Water

9) Alien Semen

10) Heroin

11) Liquid Meth

12) Liquid Metal, Copyright Cyberdyne

13) Help Me

14) Vodka

15) No, Please, Really Help Me

16) Blanco Tequila

17) I Don’t Know Why I Made This List

18) Silver Nitrate

19) They Made Me Do It

20) Rubbing Alcohol

21) Avenge Me!

allying with the reaper

On a date a few months ago, I had a gal state to me in the first five minutes of meeting that she hoped Trump would die of covid.  That she was actively, hopefully waiting for it.  She said this while giggling and smiling, like she was describing her new kitty cat to me.  I’m sure she woke up this morning feeling a great big hug, it probably made her month.

To hear the way she said it back then, alongside the brazen, bare knuckled, hate filled way she described how she was going to help Biden win so she could become a political appointee, well, it kind of disgusted me.  I felt like I was talking to a ghoul, surely this kind of dark human soul only exists in fiction, it was so over the top.  Needless to say, I never saw her again by my choice.  But I always try and be a gentlemen about these things, and so these words did not exit my mouth on the way out the door:

a) “Love your neighbor.”

b) “By acting this way, there’s essentially no difference between you and Trump.”

c) “I don’t know how you sleep at night.”

To 83% of the media and pop culture and their followers, Trump is an evil man.  Not just a bad president, but a bad human.  And so I suppose it’s perfectly normal to a whole bunch of people to actively wish for his demise.  Kind of like how everybody would have been cool if somebody dragged a razor across Hitler’s throat in 1937.  But I just don’t agree with this kind of thought process.

1) Loving and respecting your neighbor is a hallmark of living a moral life, and generally speaking, helps you stay a good person.  Which should be a constant goal for any human being.

2) I thought the whole point of Trump being a bad guy is his actions are generally beyond the pale.  Well, to me, actively wishing for a fellow human being to die (except for Hitler, and probably Stalin, and Mao) is beyond the pale.

3) Most of the people preaching this thought process on social media, or the media, or to their friends, or to a guy they met eight seconds ago are like this because they are in fact no better than Trump.  They are in fact, just cut from the same cloth as every other hard core politico and their cultural straphangers all across society.  They act like this because generally speaking, they have no morals.  It’s not about society, or you, it’s about them and the power they want.  When all they care about is power, and they’re bereft of any kind of moral compass, allying with the reaper is a meaningless, routine gesture.

I think nearly every single family member I have wants Trump gone.  I always try and remind them to temper their expectations.  Whatever happens in November, by January America will still be ruled mostly by dirt bags who care only for themselves.  It’s just shuffling the chairs with a different type of parasite.  It’s been a complete team effort by both political parties to guide America into our current sewer.  But, no matter how much I hate those folks, I’m never allying myself with the reaper.

with master plan failed, Perez contemplates retirement

Dejected, with his face clasped between his hands, Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez was said by close aids to be ready to retire.  “I don’t know what happened, we were so close,” said the longtime operative, “I mean, I know it was a long shot putting an eight year old boy up front, but even when he washed out I was sure Bernie could ram his way through.  I mean, Bernie’s psychotic followers probably think he has his own Moon base, their rage should have been enough.  What the hell happened,” Perez lamented as his stroked his prized MAGA hat.  Aides continued to marvel at the failure of Perez’s finely tuned master plan, so expertly crafted.  Said 23 year old intern Michelle Anderson of Soho, “Tom put up 47 candidates, half of them lunatics, the other half as bland or boring as paint that dried in 1734.  They should have cancelled each other out, destroyed one another in an orgy of enraged partisan violence.  We should have erased the field, our nominee should have been a mouth foaming zombie.  How did Joe do this to us?”

Insiders described the DNC headquarters as a “dank tomb” as the Super Tuesday results posted with Biden’s shocking rebound following a series of recent gaffe’s that made a final stage Alzheimer’s patient seem lucid.  “Tom just couldn’t take it,” said one DNC pollster, “he retreated into his office, tears in his eyes.  He just kept sobbing and clutching his MAGA hat like it was a service dog puppy.”  With voters seemingly on path to discard the 46 unelectable fodder from the field, analysts within the DNC are now said to turn their attention onto Biden’s many flaws as their next move to keep Trump great again.  “Tom has a list in his office,” said one, “of the 784 different things Joe’s done in the last three decades which in this Twitter era should make him completely unelectable.  It’s kind of creepy, it’s like something a serial killer would have on his basement wall.”

But some DNC workers are said to deeply question Perez’s methodology and were urging him to follow through on his retirement plans.  “Tom doesn’t get it, Joe’s the kind of candidate that almost anybody would be cool having a beer with.  Even if Joe started to wander off and talk about how he once broke Gandhi out of jail while dual-wielding a pair of Yugoslavian machine pistols, you’d still enjoy the drink.  I don’t know how we get Trump to win given that level of likability.”  At press time, Perez was said to be cold calling Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko demanding he come clean about Biden’s motorcycle gang days in a Minsk slum.  An irate Lukashenko was said to have repeatedly stated, his voice rising to Perez, “You dumb fucker, this is Belarus, Belarus, do you hear me?  I don’t live in Ukraine or Delaware.  Did you even bother to look at Biden’s jacket colors?”

sad tom perez

sad turtle face

you’re not going to die of coronavirus

I mean, you might, I suppose it’s possible. It’s also entirely possible you could get hit by lightning or mauled by a panda bear. I saw an article this morning that said people are confusing coronavirus with Corona beer. This is further evidence of our inevitable surrender to an alien race after only 17 minutes of sustained combat. Also, apparently you can’t buy a face mask in the US anymore as they’re sold out. Seeing as how all those masks are Made in China, don’t expect a resupply anytime soon, folks.

I’m not saying this coronavirus isn’t a big deal, but perspective is required. Is this really front page news? It’ll probably kill a few hundred people. This is a tragedy, but in 2017 1.24M people died on the planet’s roads. Go ahead and try and conjure in your brain an image of 1.24M people. Also in 2017, 435K died from malaria. Are malaria and safe roads front page news?

I hold nothing but contempt for the news media because they are mostly biased (one side or the other), but really my issue is always the news media isn’t guided by perspective. When your first priority is profits, sensationalism sells. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been part of the news media’s history since somebody wrote yesterday’s events on a shard of rock (Did Blura really cave in Ug’s skull?!!!), it’s just really, really troubling to me because it spins people in the wrong directions.

You’re not going to die of coronavirus. But, just to be safe, you should take the following immediate actions:

1) Buy at least 18 bottles of Corona beer

2) Purchase the board game Pandemic so you and your loved ones have something to do when the zombies are battering down your door

3) Panic

4) Write on Twitter about how much you hate [insert anything here]

5) Crossword puzzles!

6) Crack each other’s heads open and feast on the goo inside

7) Buy a shotgun so that when coronavirus is under your bed you’re armed and ready, shotguns are also efficient at protecting you from panda bears

8) Since face masks are sold out, wear a ski mask instead; conduct all your normal errands while safely wearing said mask, such as banks, the grocery, and elementary schools

9) Shake your fist at coronavirus while intoxicated on Corona

10) Avoid all roads and areas where mosquitos live

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