Editorial

Not a time to panic: On India’s response to coronavirus outbreak

India must cut the transmission chain of the virus to save its health system from collapse

With the virus galloping to 116 countries/regions causing more than 118,000 cases and 4,291 deaths, as on Wednesday, March 11, the World Health Organisation took the last logical step the same day to spotlight the threat posed by the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) — by declaring it a pandemic. The announcement came as no surprise. On Monday, the WHO chief did caution that the “threat of a pandemic has become very real” based on the number of countries reporting new cases. On Thursday, the numbers rose further: 1,27,863 cases and 4,718 deaths. This announcement comes after WHO, on January 30, declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern”. Soon thereafter, it raised the global risk level to its highest — very high. If the spread to more countries and the cases and deaths reported till the third week of February were of concern, it has become alarming since then. On February 22, the WHO chief warned that the “window of opportunity for containing the virus is narrowing”. Unfortunately, many countries did not take the warning seriously; in the last two weeks, the cases reported have increased 13-fold and countries reporting the virus have tripled. Outside China, Italy (12,462), Iran (10,075) and South Korea (7,869) have the most cases. Nearly 90% of cases reported globally are in just four countries and cases reported daily have seen a sharp drop in China and South Korea.

Coronavirus | State Helpline numbers for COVID-19 | Interactive map of confirmed coronavirus cases in India

The response to WHO’s new classification should not be one of panic but must instead stir countries into changing the course of the pandemic. While WHO had always asked all countries to take aggressive action in viral containment, it has now become all the more important to take that warning seriously. All countries are required to trace, detect, test, isolate and treat cases to prevent a handful of cases from becoming clusters, and for clusters from becoming widespread in the community and overwhelming the health-care system. Even as India has done well in this by testing, isolating, contact tracing and treating people, it has so far restricted itself to people who have returned from abroad and those who have come in contact with infected people. It may be prudent for India to adopt a more aggressive approach by looking for cases in the community to prevent the silent spread of the virus. In addition, containment measures such as closing down schools and cancelling mass gatherings in enclosed places should be done wherever necessary. Steps such as suspending tourist visas for nearly a month starting March 13 and quarantining Indians if needed are welcome — thermal screening cannot detect infected people who do not show symptoms yet. India should pull out all the stops to cut the transmission chain as its fragile public health-care system will collapse if cases rise exponentially.

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 8:16:59 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/not-a-time-to-panic-the-hindu-editorial-on-indias-response-to-coronavirus-outbreak/article31052802.ece

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