One of the most endearing episodes of Mahabharta is that of Abhimanyu and his heroic battle to break the chakravyuh. While we celebrate his valour, we mostly ignore a fundamental lesson of this story. The lesson is: Do not enter a chakravyuh if you don’t know how to exit. We are facing a similar situation with the lockdown. We have imposed the hardest nationwide lockdown in the world, and now we are struggling to reopen the country. The question now is, can we open the country with as little harm as possible? I believe we can by setting realistic goals, by using the latest scientific information and by implementing a systematic framework.

In the last two months, a vast amount of research has been published on the transmission dynamics of Covid-19. Research is broadly converging to the following six conclusions. One, the dominant mode of transmission is through respiratory droplets (coughing or sneezing) and by direct contact with infected people. Covid-19 is not transmitted through the air or faecal-oral route. So, mask, hygiene and social distancing are essential to control the spread.

Two, close and prolonged contact is required for transmission. The risk of transmission is therefore highest within the house, enclosed congregations and public transport. The chances of getting infected through short interaction are low.

Three, most transmission is caused by close contact with a symptomatic case, especially within the first week of symptoms. Spread from asymptomatic cases is relatively low. Four, older people are more susceptible to infection than younger people. Children are not the main spreader of this pandemic. Five, older people and people with pre-existing diseases are most at risk. Therefore, reducing their exposure will reduce deaths significantly. Lastly, the death rate is much lower than earlier estimated. It is likely below 1%, which is far lower than deaths due to other coronaviruses that caused diseases like SARS and MERS.

From this new understanding, Covid-19 is not as virulent as we thought before. Please don’t misunderstand; this is still a horrible disease, and we need to take all the necessary precautions. However, this new knowledge does show us a path to reopen the economy. But before we chart the new course, we have to make our expectations clear and realistic.

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