The war on coronavirus is a people’s war. Here is how to combat it: analysis
As coronavirus disease (Covid-19) spreads rapidly throughout the world, India faces two types of situations. One, the perception in the general public about the magnitude of the pandemic, and two, the mindset that India must now create to combat it. To deal with Covid-19, there must be synergy between the two.
Coronavirus is a different type of virus; It is more virulent and aggressive than those of the past and is spreading rapidly. Recognizing this is key. The precaution we exercise must be proportional to its intensity. Although the virus originated in Wuhan, China, and then spread rapidly throughout the world, India appears to have contracted it in Italy, Iran, and other countries, not China. Of these, Italy has lethal tension, causing parts of the country to face a heavy blow with a death toll that exceeds even that of China. If India has that tension, she must be prepared to face the gravity of it.
For India to fight Covid-19 effectively, the approach must be multi-layered.
Identification in the first stage (when travelers who have visited contaminated regions have returned to India) and the second stage (those infected by direct contact with the traveler) is the best defense. This is incumbent on individuals, who must report their travel history to the government, isolate themselves for two weeks, the period of the virus gestation, and take various precautions within their own homes. The government can prepare to successfully contain it at the local level. Simply put, the larger the area, the harder it is to contain the virus.
Things get more difficult as the country reaches stage three: community transmission. At this time, it is unclear whether the virus is spreading at the community level or not, but suspicions have been raised due to an increasing number of cases reported in the past few days. We may well be going there. While doing so, it is important to remember that while all those with Covid-19 symptoms (cold, cough, and flu, among others) may not test positive for the disease, it is imperative that a quarantine be established to rule out the possibility of a community outbreak. Since flu season is upon us, it may be the common flu, swine flu, or other illnesses, but people still need to exercise moderation at the risk of it being Covid-19. And if the flu is accompanied by respiratory problems, they must follow government protocol to ensure that tests are done immediately.
The Center and state governments must be accredited for acting quickly in making efforts. Locking states, restricting movement, and canceling events are welcome. But this message must echo among all sectors of society. General markets have continued to be crowded, despite the recommendation to limit the maximum number of people in any space. Awareness of the importance of social distancing as a tool to contain the virus is required.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has begun community surveillance and testing of random samples of patients with pneumonia-like or chest-related symptoms. Recent test results were negative, indicating that community transmission may not have occurred. This initiative is welcome, as it gives us an idea of how quickly it is spreading.
However, following Covid-19, India’s health systems have proven inadequate. The cases of the isolation centers highlight the sad quality of the facilities, which causes people with symptoms to flee the isolation rooms for fear of contracting diseases. This must change. With limited resources and a population of 1.37 billion people, the government cannot do this alone. Recognizing that the possibility of entering the third phase is imminent, reputable and certified private laboratories have demonstrated their willingness to test. The private sector will work together with the government to combat the disease, if the government so decides.
As a large country, even a small percentage of infected people will weigh heavily on existing health systems. Now you must proactively build designated Covid-19 hospitals across the country. Maharashtra is one step ahead. It has converted a non-functional facility into a Covid-19 hospital. Hospitals across India, which are no longer operational, along with those with the flexibility to transfer patients, must become specialized units for treatment. This will help isolate patients from the rest of the country, thereby containing the spread.
This approach worked well for China. Although delayed in his response, he built designated Covid-19 hospitals. Six weeks ago, China had an overwhelming majority of the world’s cases, and the rest had only a fraction. Today, the chart is reversing. The Chinese province of Hubei, for the first time since the outbreak on March 19, did not report new cases. Italy, on the other hand, did not respond with aggression, causing devastation and death from which it is still recovering.
India must tackle the crisis on a war footing. The war against Covid-19 is a national emergency. Until now, there is a continuous and strong line of communication between the government and the private sector. But now, India is at a turning point. The next phase is crucial. While panic is not necessary (as it suggests that we have lost our balance), we must, however, be extremely serious and exercise utmost caution. The crux of the matter lies in prevention and control, rather than trying to tame him after he goes wild.
The country – the media, healthcare professionals, civil society, corporations – are coming together to spread the right information. As chairman of the National Health Committee of the Confederation of Indian Industry (IIC), I can confirm that corporations are coming together to continue the conversation on best practices and meaningful collaboration. The latest IIC awareness video will soon be available in vernacular languages to spread the message to the most remote parts of India. Across the spectrum, led by a willing and proactive government, communities must work together. An early warning can definitely flatten the curve. Don’t let the peak.
Naresh Trehan is Chairman of the IIC National Health Committee and founder of the Medanta Hospital.
As told to Marika Gabriel
The opinions expressed are personal.