The coronavirus crisis has grappled India and the world and affected over 38,00,000 lakh people worldwide. In India, over 56,000 people have been affected and killed over 1,800. NDTV’s Dr Prannoy Roy talks to experts about how the lockdown has helped India fight the deadly disease, the economic repercussions of the pandemic and how soon can we get a vaccine. On the show, Dr Roy is joined by Peter Ratcliffe – Nobel In Medicine, Arvind Krishna – IBM’s global CEO, Dr Rajiv Shah – President of the Rockefeller Foundation, Thomas Piketty – Economist and Professor Sitabhra Sinha – Computational Biologist.

Here are the highlights of Dr Prannoy Roy’s Coronavirus Townhall:

IBM CEO Arvind Krishna says the coronavirus crisis will dramatically accelerate digital transformation. He adds that the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the way work is done.

Our hearts have to go out to those who have been impacted. The actions governments, corporations have taken, they dramatically accelerate digital transformation. Projects are speeding up. Technology will become basis for competition.

We worked with children hospitals, got calls from parents about whether they should bring them in. Within 2 days, we used AI to answer these calls. That way medical professionals can focus on the real job. AI can be used by countries and companies. When you are expanding labs to 100s, AI can be the first filter. They are trained by experts and can help answer queries of the people.

All you need is a phone. With 700 million phone connections in India, everyone has the end device. If you can use AI, you can help thousands. AI can be the first responders in these cases.

It is remarkably cost-effective. Mobile calls are cheaps. Backend won’t cost much. This is the cost of running.

Nobel laureate Peter Ratcliffe on ventilaors and coronavirus treatment:

Role of ventilators: All sorts of reasons. It is better if you can keep them without ventilators. It is most cost-effective. Need early detection.

Some are rushing to ventilators rather early for a mechanical solution to get oxygen. Possible o use a drug to improve the matching profusion.

Patients are becoming hypoxic in the early stage – surprisingly. The ventilation profusion match is failing in corona. De-oxygenated blood is coming into the arterial circulation in the patients. We are working on this.

Almitrine – made by a French company – used for treating a number of illness. But the production was discontinued. We have to conduct many tests.

The drug treatment would depend on sick people who don’t need a ventilator. We also have to study the response in corona patients.

There is a production problem with the drug. So can’t be used by doctors and patients yet. There are no stocks available.

What is the projection of coronavirus numbers for India if there was no lockdown?

If there had been no lockdown, on May 17 we would have had 25 lakh active cases. Currently, we have 39,000 active cases which may reach 60,000 on May 17.

Number of deaths today is 1,900. At the end of the lockdown, we expect 2,900 on may 17. But without lockdown, 1.2 lakh would have died by May 17.

Lockdown and travel ban have saved a lot of lives. But it needed more thought. Didn’t think about migrants. About infrastructure. About PPE for doctors. About economy. India done well on lockdown, but not so well in helping economy, poor, small industries and daily wagers.

Computational Biologist Professor Sitabhra Sinha on the number of infections:

Let’s say R is average no of people infected by 1. If this is over 1, more and more will get infected. The fact that we started with 1.83 and went down, is definitely encouraging.

Even now we see rise in cases because R>1. It will keep rising till it is over 1.

On 25 lakh cases without lockdown, he says: One can hardly predict “might have been”. But it points towards the positive impact of lockdown. It reduced infections and deaths.

Lifting lockdown is a bit of a worry. Going forward depends on how we implement the lockdown – securing perimeter of hotspots.

Dr Rajiv Shah, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, on an Action Plan against COVID-19

Testing is the first step. India needs National Action Plan. We did that for US. India and many countries need such a plan to stop the virus for at least 18 months till a vaccine is developed.

We are working with India. Rockefeller partnering with India for 100 years. We have partners with Piramal, Asha workers. When they go door to door, they can ask questions and report to a surveillance network for India to figure out where testing and attention are needed.

“Serious concern”, says economist Thomas Piketty on coronavirus

This is a serious concern. This crisis should be seen as an opportunity for India and developing countries to develop a set of social policies, health infra. Lockdown alone can’t work. People have to go out to find work, food. Unique opportunity to develop welfare infra.

The determinants of economic polices and social equality is much more political and ideological.

Countries we see today as very equal like Sweden, was extremely unequal in 1911. Then with trade unions they became very equal.

The rebalancing of the world will continue. India is not going to be able to change the financial system.

Peter Ratcliffe on coronavirus vaccine:

It should be quick. The people who get it, will be protected. It will take time to find out how long it lasts. It should come out very soon.

Enough people will have to compared with those who don’t have to figure the impact. It will take time. Comparison is very important.

First people have received it. It will take months the trial results. And some more to develop vaccine for the global population to benefit from it.

IBM CEO Arvind Krishna on super computing and optimism that vaccine will be out in a year or two:

Power is dramatic. We can now understand protein and molecular interaction. These Super Computers will help develop the vaccines and new therapies. Instead of 3-4 years years, we can shorten it down to a year.

We hear about Kilo and Mega. So now we have peta. Peta is 1 followed by 15 zeroes. It is the speed of computation. We have to find way to crunch the data. We are doing a lot, even in india. We work to decrease amount of false data that is misused. Need to provide trusted data.

Tech may play a role in safe trial and quick trials. Raw tech is coming from biological researchers. I am optimistic, we will have a vaccine in 1 – 2 years.

Dr Rajiv Shah on COVID-19 vaccine:

True. I am relying on experts who say 12-18 months window. Vaccine makes sense if it works. No point having it in concept. Should be made available to everyone globally.

Rockefeller has been part of mass vaccination campaign – starting from yellow fever. Like in polio, we have to make it accessible. We are working with Indian government and partners to make it available.

Arvind Krishna on Artificial Intelligence:

There is both public and private cloud on offer. Client will have to decide whether they want to put their workload on the public or private cloud.

AI is the only tech we have that let us harness the value of data. AI refines raw data.

Both put together will hep us make massive progress in productivity.

Peter Ratcliffe on the coronavirus treatment:

It is likely people might get immune. But not sure about the extent and the duration of immunity. We don’t know this immediately. Will need some time.

It is the time to maintain caution (even those who have had and recovered).

They can measure the level of anti-body. Not a binary. We don’t absolutely know what causes immunity. Anti-body is the marker of immunity as opposed to what causes immunity. We need to do longitudinal study and test people over a period of time.

We can do it on the health service workers who treat a lot of infected people and can find out.

On plasma therapy, he says: This has been brought forward. It has worked well where we know the mechanism of the disease. In this case, we don’t know what is causing the disease. Don’t know if a particular anti-body will have a great effect.

Dr Rajiv Shah on coronavirus home test kits:

We are going to see a lot of new testing tech available in next couple of months. affordability will depend on manufacturers once they understand the demand and scale of need.

Expect international industrial cooperation to keep costs affordable. Us needs 30 million tests per week. India needs lakhs.

Not just with symptoms but asymptomatic are seeking tests. The virus is highly transmissible. We need to have precise data on who are infected.

Number of tests are getting quick FDA approvals. Good news is more tests. Challenge is regulatory barriers are reduced. So we need to figure out which work.

Thomas Piketty on the anti-China feeling after the outbreak:

China will keep building power base in the coming years. It’s hard to say what people will remember from this period. China and Asian countries did better than other. US model has lost lot of moral prestige after the election of Trump. China model has lack of transparency.

India has the potential to become a more attractive model than China in the long run. India will take time to recover from social inequality. Should invest more in infrastructure.

Arvind Krishnan says it has always been about IQ and EQ. he adds: In tech, you are as good as your people. People bring tech, they consume. Machine is the end product. People you can trust. It is also important for government and corporations. They are as good as their people. How they treat their people and clients.

Peter Ratcliffe on coronavirus: We don’t know a lot about the disease

It can kill people. We don’t know a lot about the disease. Only certainty is that we can contain through social distancing. Don;t know who are susceptible and immune. Don’t know if climate matters, the size of droplets, people with severe disease are most prone – we don’t know. I am neither pessimistic or optimistic.

There are real horrific possibilities for this disease. I can see some benefits to society. This has been a wake up call. Things humans do, on reflection, are not good. We are very dependent on each other. But there is not much political coherence. Need to emerge stronger.

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