NL Interview: Harvard researchers on myths and realities of the coronavirus pandemic

Two Newslaundry subscribers at Harvard University in the US join Abhinandan Sekhri to answer questions about the pandemic, from the accuracy of prediction models for India to the media’s coverage of the crisis.

WrittenBy:NL Team
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Bhargav Krishna is a doctoral student at Harvard University’s TH Chan School of Public Health in the United States, and serves as adjunct faculty at the Public Health Foundation of India. Atif Adam holds joint faculty positions in the Department of Mental Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Joslin Diabetes Center of Harvard Medical School. They are both Newslaundry subscribers.

In this conversation with Abhinandan Sekhri, Bhargav and Atif discuss the coronavirus pandemic and its implications, especially for India.

They start with pandemic prediction models, how accurate they are, and how seriously we should take them. Adam explains what various models show, and how a static model differs from a variable one. He emphasises the short-term, mid-term, and long-term actions that the government can take, to flatten the curve of the outbreak.

Moving on, Bhargav explains the possible outcomes of the pandemic, including the chances of India developing herd immunity against the novel coronavirus, and how it worked during the SARS epidemic. He emphasises the importance of collecting as much data as possible on infections, deaths. Giving the example of South Korea, he points out how the government there did a stellar job of contact tracing and rapid testing.

What we are seeing in India is more “reactive planning”, Adam says, comparing it to fixing a leaky balloon where everyone tries different methods to see what works. Talking about how India can deal with the situation better, he says, “Rather than copy and paste, pick up key things from these countries that have managed to flatten the curve, see what we can learn, what we can’t do. And then create public messaging that is appropriate.”

They also discuss what contracting coronavirus entails for people with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and respiratory ailments; the possibility of the virus mutating into a deadlier strain; and when a vaccine may be available. And, of course, they talk about the media’s coverage of the pandemic.

For this and a lot more, tune in.

Recorded by Snigdha Sharma, edited by Parikshit Sanyal.


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