Coronavirus has already hit around 150,000 people globally. Here are five things that we as a nation and people need to do to fight the pandemic.
The number of Coronavirus cases in India has risen to 93 as per official figures put out by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
Other reports suggest that we have already touched the figure of 100. In any case, if we go by the MoHFW data, out of 93 confirmed cases, nine people have been cured and discharged, two have died, 17 are foreign nationals and the rest 76 are Indians.
As far as the whole world is concerned, the total number of Covid-19 cases has already crossed the 150,000 figure. Infections are rising rapidly in Europe. So far, only Italy looked like a scary case (it has been adding thousands of new cases per day) but now France, Germany, Spain, UK, Switzerland and many other small nations seem to be entering into serious trouble. The US is catching up fast as well, as it adds hundreds of new cases every day.
As India stares at the figure of 100 cases, with Kerala and Maharashtra emerging as hotspot states, it is time to revisit some of our strategies and improvise quickly to contain the spread of Covid-19 into Stage - 3 (Stage 1 is when a country has only imported cases, stage 2 is when there is local transmission, stage 3 is when “community transmission” has started and stage 4 is a full-blown pandemic, which is where Italy is).
“India has around a 30-day window to halt the beginning of community transmission of Covid-19 cases. The time to act is now," says Indian Council of Medical Research director-general Balram Bhargava.
Here are five important things India, as a nation, needs to do:
First, restrictions on travel from emerging Covid-19 hotspots need to be increased. India has been ahead of the curve compared to other countries in suspending visas from severely affected nations and warning travellers that they may be quarantined for 14 days on arrival. The first strict advisory came on 26 February, five days before two cases were reported in Delhi and Telangana.
The last was on 11 March, when all non-work, non-diplomatic visas were suspended and it was made mandatory for all travellers including Indians to be quarantined for 14 days if they were coming from or had traveled to China, Iran, Italy, South Korea, France, Germany and Spain. This missed many countries like the UK, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, United States and UAE among others.
All these countries must be added as soon as possible with retrospective effect.
Second, the government must be fully prepared to decentralise Covid-19 testing to private hospitals and standalone clinics down to the district level. So far, only authorised government laboratories (65 in total, up from 10 in two weeks) under the guidance of NIV Pune are doing the testing. The testing criteria is also limited, which will also need expanding. The Centre can probably start with Kerala and Maharashtra, which make up for more than half of the cases in the country.
So far, the centralised structure has been working well. The diagnostic kits are not in unlimited supply and due to panic, many with common cold and cough have been visiting hospitals to check if they have Covid-19, when they don’t have any history of travel or contact with someone with a travel history.
The government is already tracing thousands of people who may have come into contact with COVID-19 cases or the suspects. But as the number of cases go up, this alone won’t suffice and the government must be prepared to have the capacity to conduct tens of thousands of tests daily.
Third, the state governments and armed forces must be ready to readily implement curfews at a short notice. The Centre has already authorised states to invoke Epidemic Disease Act of 1897, which gives state officials wide powers to issue diktats and punish those who break the rules. All states must quickly issue their guidelines with clear rules, fines, quantum of punishment, etc and disseminate the information to the public.
Fourth, communicate well. Though it is too much to expect, but politicians — whether in the government or in the opposition — must use their bully pulpits constructively. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and state Chief Ministers should appeal to the people that if they are put under curfew or in isolation or in quarantine at government facilities, it is for their own benefit and they should not behave irresponsibly. Those in the Opposition must exhort the people to cooperate with the government authorities in fighting this pandemic rather than succumbing to the temptation to play politics and create panic.
Fifth, understand responsibility. The media, non-governmental organisations and citizens, all must rise to the occasion.
The Fourth Pillar
Whether it is terrorist attacks, India’s response in the form of surgical strikes, or riots, in the past one year, if there is one profession which has failed Indian society the most, it is the media. And initial signs of coverage of the Coronavirus pandemic suggests that the fourth pillar is in no mood to reform its behaviour.
But it has a huge responsibility and this public health emergency is one issue where it can truly be of great service. Rather than inviting partisan hacks on prime time TV debates and conducting shouting matches, all anchors should focus on having medical experts on their show to inform the people and keep them updated on the virus and the existing situation.
A foreign media publication recently published an article quoting a person who runs a thoroughly biased fact-checking website, on India’s preparedness in handling Covid-19. An Indian publication ran an article claiming that the Indian government is not admitting that community transmission is taking place, when the WHO says it is happening. Turns out the journalist and the publication don’t know difference between ‘local transmission’ and ‘community transmission’.
Is it too much to expect journalists to keep their political views aside in times of emergency and report objectively without sensation? If there is ever a time to err on the side of caution, it is now.
Apart from the government, there is a huge role for other organisations and institutions to play.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has millions of volunteers. They are always at the forefront in doing service during times of environmental disaster, earthquakes or emergencies. This will be a different beast, and hence volunteers will have to adapt. One of the key roles that it can play is to supply essentials to the people in case there are curfews and large clusters of population are quarantined.
Akshaya Patra, an NGO which feeds midday meals to 1.8 million poor children, can allocate a part of its resources to serve food in those clusters where poor people are under curfew or isolation and don’t have money to stock up on food supplies.
Food delivery startups like Swiggy and Zomato can play a crucial role as well in ensuring high standards of hygiene of their delivery persons and be ready to meet the high demand of orders if strict social distancing measures remain in force for weeks.
Temples can use their monetary resources (government willing) to run kitchens to serve those who most need it.
Ed-tech platforms such as Byju’s and Unacademy can help millions of students who would be sitting home due to closure of schools and colleges.
We The People
In emergencies like the one we are staring at, it’s not just the government or non-government institutions that have a responsibility. Citizens too have to rise to the occasion.
Covid-19 is not to be taken lightly. It’s extremely serious and the less careful we are as a society, the more fatal it can prove to be. Ask Italians. If the government is asking communities to stay home, we must follow it in all seriousness. If it is putting you in isolation because it suspects you to be a Covid-19 case, then cooperate.
Don’t expect it to give you five-star hotel facilities in these quarantine facilities. It’s not taking you on a vacation. Drop your sense of privilege and entitlement for a few days and follow instructions of those who are trying to contain the outbreak.
The government cannot police every citizen in the country. The communities, in their villages, mohallas, towns, etc, need to step up and regulate themselves. Villages in India have a long standing tradition of forming a band of vigilantes if they are under attack and there is no police protection. Now, they would need to form a band of volunteers who can work in shifts, draw members from all families, and deliver essential supplies to homes.
Covid-19 is a big challenge, but it’s not an insurmountable one. Far from it. As China, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan have demonstrated, it can easily be overcome if all stakeholders in society come together to fight it.