Coronavirus outbreak: Lockdown and beyond - a looming crisis

DelhiWritten By: Maj General SB Asthana, SM, VSMUpdated: Mar 25, 2020, 02:53 PM IST


Story highlights

India needs to take the spirit of ‘Janata Curfew’ forward with much more enthusiasm and discipline.

The coronavirus has spread across 194 countries and territories around the world. The dangers, as well as precautions, have been covered adequately by all government communications/media/publications, as well as social media.

While there is adequate awareness, but there is also a varying degree of seriousness in dealing with the pandemic, as many segments of society chose to put individual preferences above potentially most devastating threat that looms the world. 

The world meter indicates over 4,23,000 cases of coronavirus with 18296 deaths and 107,199 recoveries. The WHO puts the morbidity rate at 3.4 per cent, but the biggest danger being faced by mankind is the exponential rise in coronavirus cases due to community transfers.

It is necessary to understand the seriousness in adopting the safety measures being communicated by government agencies through various mediums.  

The Epicenters 

China is accused to have done global damage by hiding crucial timely information about the pandemic from the rest of the world. Wuhan, believed to be the origin and initial epicentre of the disease, was late in quarantining affected people and could not prevent community transfer. 

China was quick to declare that it has conquered the disease with reporting 73,159 recovered cases, but 78 fresh cases, seven fresh deaths and 4735 active cases, mitigate the claim. The world will continue to accuse China for hiding the pandemic, with two legal notices already filed against it. 

Italy (with 69176 cases and 6820 deaths) is another example of taking the disease lightly initially and trying to control it with all possible measures later. WHO warns USA to be next epicenter of COVID-19 having 54916 cases confirmed, out of which there are more than 25000 cases in New York. The US faces stalemate over $2 trillion allocations for combating the pandemic. The same is the case with South Korea and Japan. 

The only advantage these countries enjoy is that they have much less population in comparison to countries like India and relatively better medical capacities per capita population to control. Iran continues to struggle with an initial spurt of carelessness and later with inadequate capacity. It needs to be noted that in most western countries the testing in terms of the percentage of the population has been fairly high; hence, the magnitude of the problem is better identified.  

Taiwan's Success in Combatting Covid-19

Taiwan, with 23 million people, just off the coast of China, was predicted to have the second-highest 'importation risk' by any country with over 850,000 of its citizens residing and working in mainland China and heavy rush of travellers to and from China. Considering the risk, having only 199 cases with two deaths and no new cases so far is creditable. Its success is attributed to early action by National Health Command Center (NHCC) with a branch focusing on large outbreak responses and acting as a central command post for direct, transparent communications, which was established after the SARS outbreak. Their actions included border control from the air and sea, identifying cases, quarantine of suspicious cases, managing resource allocation, daily press briefings, identifying false information and formulating economic policies to relieve families and businesses. Maximum use of ‘Big Data’ and technology was done to identify travellers, patients and suspects, and quarantining them. The support of the population was another major factor. 

What Should be India's Next Response?

India has the second-largest population in the world with over 130 billion people. While there is no need to panic with 536 cases identified and 10 deaths so far, but as a developing country, its capacity to isolate communities is the biggest challenge in the world, which cannot be combatted without public participation. 

The numbers identified so far are limited, due to limited testing facilities available in the country, which are being increased gradually. India needs to ensure not to enter into community spread (next stage) of COVID19 outbreak, otherwise, speed of infection will overtake the speed of capacity building of the country to handle it. 

Although a lot is being done by the central and state governments, the biggest challenge is to convince the segments of the society, who chose to take it lightly, by superimposing personal priorities over public health. The 21-day lockdown of the complete country announced by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24, 2020, is the right step to break the chain of infection and flatten the upward curve of growing cases in India. 

India does not have the luxury of a manageable population, and is yet to have the full capacity to deal with the third stage of the pandemic; hence the best option available is to quarantine and social distancing.

The partnership of people and the private sector for capacity building is required. Going by the example of Taiwan, the data of every citizen with the government is necessary to counter such emergencies better. India needs to take the spirit of ‘Janata Curfew’ forward with much more vigour, enthusiasm and discipline. 

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)