Ready, or not: On rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and India’s state of preparedness

Health systems must gear up to face the fresh rise in COVID-19 cases

April 13, 2023 12:20 am | Updated 08:58 am IST

The better part of management is preparedness. Unless a certain clairvoyance, inspired by evidence, is possible and systems are ready, post facto management could be a damp squib. The rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in the country indicate the need to gear up again. On April 12, a total of 7,830 new cases were reported in a 24-hour period, according to the Union Health Ministry’s data, possibly the highest in over 200 days. There are over 40,000 active cases in the country as on date. A lineage of the Omicron virus called XBB.1.16 is said to be behind the current rapid proliferation of cases in the country. Fatalities are also slowly increasing, being reported from States where there had been no deaths reported for months. It might be reassuring that initial studies of the behaviour of XBB.1.16 show milder infections not requiring hospitalisation, indicating that it is not a very virulent strain. However, health systems can scarcely afford to be under prepared, especially considering the recent traumatic experience of a raging pandemic taking a huge toll.

In any long-winded battle in the realm of public health, a sense of fatigue is inevitable, particularly during a pandemic when the demand on health human resources and infrastructure is relentless. Every opportunity to lay down the burden will be seized, naturally, and low infection levels over time can lead to complacence. The rising number of COVID-19 cases in India is that call to rouse health systems across the country and have them in a state of readiness to meet the challenge. The difference though, between March 2023 and March 2020, is that the world is no longer COVID-naive. The experience has given an indication of how to be prepared, even if the World Health Organization has come round to treating COVID-19 similar to seasonal influenza. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at the meeting of the COVID-19 taskforce two weeks ago, rightly advised States to focus on the stratagem that worked earlier — ‘test-track-treat-vaccinate’ and adhere to COVID-appropriate behaviour. He also called for enhancing lab surveillance, testing all severe acute respiratory illness cases, and for drills to be conducted regularly in hospitals, nationwide. Several States have brought in compulsory masking at various levels, and conducted drills. But, it is also clear from prior experience that a lot depends on compliance at the personal level — hand washing hygiene, masking, and reaching the hospital early particularly in the case of senior citizens and persons with co-morbidities. As governments prepare themselves, strengthening health systems, individuals should also be prudent to take adequate precautions.

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