Challenges of fighting Coronavirus (COVID 19) in India

A section of media is applauding the government and congratulating the Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a successful Janata Curfew on March 22. We are not here to dispute the idea of Janata Curfew and overwhelming public participation. It’s really an innovative step to implement social distancing. However, the country needs to do beyond a standalone Janata Curfew. India still needs a long mile to go to control the spread of the COVID 19 and we don’t have time to wait for.

Siddheshwar  ShuklaSiddheshwar Shukla | Updated: 24-03-2020 15:34 IST | Created: 22-03-2020 22:51 IST
Challenges of fighting Coronavirus (COVID 19) in India
Representative image Image Credit: ANI
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If you are thinking one day of staying at home will save you and your family from Coronavirus (COVID19)? It’s time to wake up. 

This is because the virus is highly contagious and survives on the surface from hours to a few days. The virus was first detected in the last week of December in Wuhan city of China and within two and half months it has spread in over 184 countries of the world across continents including the most developed countries such as the US, the UK, Canada, and entire Europe. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 267,013 persons are presently infected and 11,201 have died with a maximum of about 4,800 deaths in Italy. If controlling COVID 19 was so easy, several countries in the world are better equipped than India to enforce one day of complete shutdown or lockdown.

However, India has really done some exceptional works by evacuating its citizens from China and Iran but the government seems lagging on some fronts that need to be strengthened. India has some specific challenges that need to be overcome to control the spread of Coronavirus. Here are some areas government agencies need to focus to control the spread of COVID 19.

Ignorance of the non-China foreign travelers

India has been among a few countries that were the early recipient of COVID 19 patients directly from the Wuhan City of China. Initially, India did an excellent job in isolation, testing and cure of infected patients.

As early as on January 30, three medical students of Kerala who returned from a university in Wuhan were tested positive with the virus. As they had mixed up with the population, Kerala government declared state emergency and contacted all those who had come in their contacts. Subsequently, 3,000 persons were quarantined including 45 were put in isolation in hospitals but none of them was tested positive. All three students were also cured. The emergency was withdrawn. Besides, India made highly commendable attempts in evacuating its citizens stuck in Chinese cities and treating them in quarantines before releasing them in society.

However, the same level of alertness was not shown in screeing the travelers arriving from European, American and Arabian countries. The government was in deep slumber while cases were rising alarmingly in Iran, Italy, Switzerland, Canada, the UK, the USA and other countries where Indian students, workers, and professionals go in large numbers. As the cases rise in those countries, they escaped to India and mixed up with the population without proper screening, quarantine and isolation. The second batch of Corona positive cases in Kerala was detected on March in a couple and their 26-year-old son who had come from Italy. Hereafter, the cases are increasing very fast in Kerala and other states as well. This shows the lackadaisical approach of the government in handling inflow of Indians fleeing from infected countries of Europe, Arab and the Americas. 

India government needs to trace all the suspects who have travel history to the European, Arabian, American, and African countries and put them on surveillance and conduct proper screening. As the virus has now spread in all the Asian countries as well, all the foreign travelers need to be tracked and put on surveillance and screening. The healthy persons should also be made aware to maintain social distancing from such persons by not attending their family functions and programs. 

Undermining the Power of Private Health Sector in COVID 19 Screening 

The government knew very well its limitation of resources in testing the COVID 19 suspects at airports and ports in the country. However, the services of private hospitals and private doctors are not integrated with the public sector.

This was the main reason behind the release of a huge number of foreign travelers in society before the proper screening. The present dispensation emphasizes public-private partnership but why the private partners were not involved is a major question before the establishment? It was only after the situation went out of control, some private labs were accredited on Saturday to conduct the tests. There has been a well-established practice to involve the private labs and hospitals to screen the patients with a regulated fee. The practice has been prevalent in Delhi to control the dengue epidemic for past many years. But, the government seems to have made a blunder by ignoring the private sector.

Besides, the upper-class people in India prefer private hospitals due to various reasons. The lack of guidance to private hospitals is still a major concern in India’s fight against COVID 19. The Central government and state governments should immediately issue guidelines to involve private hospitals and doctors in their fight against coronavirus. These guidelines should also include the maximum price of test, treatment and related ethics as well. A certificate of 'COVID negative' by private labs may be made mandatory for long-distance travel and air travel in the country. 

Superiority Complex and Showmanship of Foreign Returns 

Though showmanship is alarmingly increasing in all sections of the Indian population wherein almost everybody tries to show his wealth and access to the corridors of power, the foreign returns have a higher degree of superiority complex. They do their best to buckle the enforcement agencies either by proving them they are super-humans through their style, language and wealth or asking their relatives and friends in the politics and bureaucracy to do so.

The case of singer Kanika Kapoor in Lucknow and a senior IAS officer’s son in Kolkata are classical examples of this category. While the bureaucratic pressure in releasing Kolkata boy without testing from the airport is established, the disregard of ‘isolation’ by Kapoor also indicates some political nexus. The number of high profile politicians attending her event is sufficient to indicate the kind of pressure she may have been using to buckle doctors and security forces. Earlier, a senior railway employee in Agra was so full of showmanship that he did not allow the medical team to inspect her Coronavirus suspected daughter despite her husband was tested positive. She had returned from Italy after the honeymoon and tested coronavirus positive. The police had to register FIR against him.

The showmanship does not end in buckling the officials at the airport. They go everywhere to party, often join late-night parties and transmit the diseases to maximum people. The government needs to be strict with such persons and make them understand the urgency of the situation in the language they understand to fall in line. If disobedient, they must be imposed heavy fines.

The increasing percentage of Local Infections 

The increasing number of infections from local sources is a serious concern among health workers. As per the dashboard COVID.IN on March 22, out of 344 confirmed Coronavirus cases, 44 per cent of patients received it from local sources who had no history of foreign travel while 164 received it from foreign sources or imported transmission. On Monday the percentage of imported transmission was over 60 percent.

On Saturday, the government had to create a third category – ‘not sure yet’. Presently, 29 patients (8 percent) do not know their source of infection. This is the most dangerous category. If patients increase in this category, the situation will go out of control.  

Over-Reliance on Surgical Masks 

The blunder is being committed by television reporters and some activists. They just wear a surgical mask to interview people on roads. They make people gather at a place. They show as if masks will protect from COVID 19. However, the truth is that the masks don’t protect you.

What is the guarantee the sneeze of a person will not come on your face, hands, clothes, mike, and camera, etc.? If they are touching each other or they are touching common objects they are spreading infection. Therefore, media persons should avoid organizing public gatherings for public reaction. Besides, the public should also be made aware that masks are no guarantee for protection against COVID 19.  

Religious Orthodoxy 

This is the biggest obstacle in the path of handling the pandemic. Several religious leaders are issuing directions to people of their religious communities to gather at a place or at their respective religious places. The government with the help of learned religious leaders should devise a mechanism to neutralize the impact of such orthodoxies. Dr. Harsh Vardhan, the present Indian health minister who spearheaded the drive to make India free from polio in the 1990s has the experience of handling such orthodoxies. He must come to lead from the front. As the health minister of Delhi between 1993-98, he was the first to reach out to various religious leaders and convinced them that the polio vaccine will not make their kids impotent. It was due to his efforts the religious appeals were issued from Jama Masjid in Delhi and also by other religious leaders to facilitate the polio vaccine in India. However, such efforts are missing from the scene despite Vardhan heading the health ministry of India. 

The Way Ahead 

Besides, the media and social media are deluged with misinformation and conspiracy theories. The WHO has rightly called it 'infodemic' at the time of COVID 19 pandemic to which the world is fighting today. These pieces of misinformation range from medical suggestions to conspiracies to ‘our community is protected from virus’ and we dare coronavirus campaigns. The government needs to come heavily on such rumor mongers.

The fight against Coronavirus requires a multipronged and integrated approach. There is no scope for isolated approaches and patchwork. Announcements to stop airport, train services, transport services, work from home facilities, all are welcome steps but now the time has come for complete lockdown for a few days by whatever name the Government of India loves to enforce. This is because a single infected person can infect millions. The virus may not be so fatal but, if not controlled on time, the pressure on hospitals and the losses to the economy will be unimaginable. The government must show the baton to control the situation. Let all unruly and disobedient people face the music of the State without any discrimination.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are the personal views of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Devdiscourse and Devdiscourse does not claim any responsibility for the same.)

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