Since just before the new year, Ramanan Laxminarayan, an epidemiologist and economist at Princeton, has been camped out with his family in an apartment in New Delhi. Laxminarayan is the founder and director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics, and Policy, and is an expert in antibiotic resistance. During the pandemic, he’s been studying coronavirus transmission in India. He works from home, spending nearly all his time indoors until five-thirty each day, when he takes his dog out for a stroll. Together, they explore Vasant Vihar, an embassy-filled neighborhood in the southwest of the city.
Laxminarayan’s walks have changed in recent weeks. Coronavirus deaths in India have skyrocketed, and a frightening atmosphere has descended. New Delhi is roughly as dense as New York City, with some thirty thousand residents per square mile. But now Laxminarayan passes just a few scattered people; almost everyone stays inside if they can, venturing out only in search of food, medication, or medical care. Before the surge, mask-wearing had declined, but now everyone’s face is covered again. “You need public-health enforcement when the pandemic is invisible,” Laxminarayan told me. “Now fear is the dominant force changing people’s behavior.”