The fourth Indian serosurvey for covid 19 which was released on July 20 shows that two-thirds of country’s population has antibodies against the virus. That indicates that it has been exposed to the infection and developed a degree of immunity to it. While this is encouraging it also shows that one-third of the Indian people, in absolute numbers more than forty crores, have no immunity against the deadly disease as yet. That is why the experts who released the serosurvey findings warned the country against letting its guard down. They correctly emphasised the need to strongly continue with non-pharmaceutical interventions in India to contain the pandemic.
The global epicentres of the virus have shifted from China, where it emerged more than a year and a half ago, to Europe to the US to India with the terrible second wave to now Indonesia. Meanwhile the total number of global covid-19 officially recorded cases has risen to over nineteen crores and deaths to over forty-one lakhs. However, it is widely believed that these are gross under estimations especially because of lack of adequate testing for covid-19 cases and either wrongful recording or not recording of covid-19 deaths. While the figures of actual infections and deaths, especially in the developing world, will remain matters of controversy what can be certainly asserted is that the pandemic has caused enormous suffering and dislocated all economies.
Government has assured that the vaccination programme will cover all the eligible people by the year’s end. And, vaccines are the main weapon against the virus. Should vaccines cover the entire eligible Indian people as envisaged by government and if the people adhere to expert advice, 2022 may gradually witness the retreat of the virus and a return to a substantial degree of normalcy. That is subject to the proviso that a virus variant which is immune to present vaccines does not evolve. Thus, all in all, a large degree of uncertainty continues about the future while the virus goes on to exact its heavy toll in human lives with the more transmissible and deadlier delta variant.
This has been the first extensive pandemic of the digital age. To meet its challenge humankind has deployed the tools of this age. This has been both against the virus itself as also its devastating impact on all areas of collective life. It has been because of the vast technological apparatus now available that vaccines development was swift and variants and mutations are being expeditiously tracked. While these have been important to save lives, it is in adapting to the conditions created by the pandemic that the tools of the digital age have been readily used. In no area has this been more apparent as in communications.
As a former diplomat I have naturally been struck by the use of current digital communications technology to keep the wheels of interstate relations moving. This has been through virtual meetings of diplomats with their counterparts but also face-to-face virtual interactions of Heads of States and Governments in bilateral and multilateral settings. Indeed, the annual meeting of the High-Level segment of the United Nations General Assembly last year in September was held virtually. This was also true of multilateral summits of important groups such as the G7 and the G20. However, this year’s G7 summit was held in physical mode in Britain. Leaders of the G7 countries met in person to demonstrate that the pandemic was being controlled and the world was achieving a degree of normalcy.
The signal sent out was clearly that virtual summits were useful but the ‘normal’ mode of summit meetings was still physical. It is too early to assess if this thinking of leaders on ‘normalcy’ will continue post-pandemic or if the new normal will be hybrid meetings. This would mean that it would become acceptable for some leaders to converge physically at a venue while others interact with them virtually. What can be asserted is that as group creatures homo sapiens will be more comfortable in certain situations with physical meetings. This would be equally true of family and personal meetings as those in an official setting. What is likely to happen is that a lot of routine interstate interaction will be conducted virtually. Secure modes of communication would be augmented for this purpose but for sensitive matters between states physical meetings would still be the preferred mode.
What is true for the diplomatic world post-pandemic would be truer for businesses where the bottom line is of great importance. Thus, wherever possible commercial interaction will be perhaps be in virtual mode but crucial negotiations would be in person. This may be in many professional areas too. Thus, doctors may examine their patients virtually unless physical examinations become necessary. The same may become true for lawyers and even in some areas of judicial proceedings. Online education has been going on since the pandemic. This has been useful to ensure that there was no interruption in the education process. In the future too there will be more and more use of virtual teaching but governments will have to ensure that the digital divides are bridged. Furthermore, educational campuses contribute to the socialisation of students and that cannot take place through virtual means.
The post-pandemic world will be different in some ways but human nature will not change in its fundamentals. As Kailas Nath Katju, my grandfather, once wrote : the same elemental passions rule humankind in all ages.