All about COVID-19

Coronavirus | The cost of opacity

Medical staff put on protective gears at Red Cross Hospital at Wuhan in China’s Hubei Province on March 11, 2020.   | Photo Credit: AFP

China’s initial cover-up of the novel coronavirus outbreak for nearly a month invited worldwide condemnation. Similarly, there were concerns when the U.S. was reported to be barring leading scientist, Anthony Fauci, from speaking publicly about the COVID-19 outbreak without approval. Dr. Fauci has been the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 and has helped combat many novel viruses including SARS, H1N1, MERS and Ebola. Therefore, it is troubling that instead of advocating transparency during a pandemic, the Indian Medical Association (IMA), representing over 3,25,000 doctors, has said that India should adopt the same opaque manner of functioning while dealing with the outbreak.

The World Health Organization (WHO) holds a daily press briefing on COVID-19. It shares data on the number of cases and deaths country-wise every day. The Union Health Minister and the Kerala Health Minister also share data daily, which is commendable. But the IMA does not want the government to share data with the public daily as it says people are “clueless as to what is expected of them” and the release of data daily has “created panic”. However, ironically, it also says that “awareness, self precautions, contact tracing and self isolation are the public health measures required”. Secretary General Dr. R.V. Asokan said to The Hindu that the government should consider releasing data “once in three or seven days”. It should not mention the numbers of those infected, but use terms such as ‘low’, ‘moderate’ or ‘high’ to give a sense of the spread, he said. “Why should people know the numbers? This pandemic will escalate and people will scrutinise the numbers minutely,” he said.


Maintaining trust

While dealing with a public health crisis, especially a pandemic, complete transparency is paramount. It is information that helps build trust in society and puts people at ease. How does the IMA expect people to cooperate, practice self-isolation, and take basic precautions when they are not taken into confidence? As Dr. Anant Bhan, a researcher in global health and bioethics, says, “When the government is transparent, it gives people the confidence that it is in control and is taking all the necessary steps to control the outbreak. The trust factor should not be broken.”

Responses across the world

Many countries responded quickly to the unfolding pandemic. South Korea shared data on the number of cases and deaths even as the numbers steadily increased. On March 5, the U.K. added COVID-19 to the list of notifiable diseases and added SARS-CoV-2 to the list of notifiable causative agents. As a result, doctors are now legally bound to report all cases to Public Health England.


The Indian government has made some efforts to this end but can do much more. It could take a leaf out of Taiwan’s book, for instance. In Taiwan, the public were kept informed about COVID-19 every hour through television and radio programmes. They were informed about how SARS-CoV-2 spreads, the importance of washing hands with soap, when to wear a mask, etc. They learnt about the symptoms and spread of the disease. This helped Taiwan trace contacts easily. People also cooperated in cutting the transmission chain — for instance, parents checked their children for a fever before sending them to school.

The right approach

This is not the first time that the IMA has made an embarrassing statement. Some time ago, it admonished The Lancet for the journal’s stand on the dilution of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. Its dangerous advice at a time like this raises questions about whether the IMA and its office bearers are aware of the best public health practices during a disease outbreak, particularly a pandemic. It is not transparency and data, but opacity and lack of public awareness that cause panic. The right approach would be for the government to constantly educate the public on various aspects of SARS-CoV-2 and the precautions to be taken.


This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | May 13, 2021 5:29:35 AM |

In This Package
The Hindu Explains | How is India preparing to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?
The Hindu Explains | Why was a COVID-19 vaccine dry run necessary, and how was it organised?
Coronavirus | Why people with prior infection still need COVID-19 vaccination
Explained | What we know about China-made vaccines
How infections among participants are a part of vaccine trials | The Hindu In Focus podcast
The Hindu Explains | What is emergency use authorisation for drugs and vaccines?
Coronavirus | How the new variant quickly accumulated 23 mutations
Coronavirus | New variant does not increase reinfection risk, disease severity, deaths
Coronavirus | N501Y mutation in SARS-CoV-2 virus causes increased infectivity in mice: researchers
The Hindu Explains | Are viruses expected to change form, and will vaccines protect against a mutating SARS-CoV-2?
Coronavirus | Is the first wave coming to an end in India?
Has India passed the COVID-19 peak? | The Hindu Parley podcast
Has India passed its COVID-19 peak, as a new government study claims? | The Hindu In Focus podcast
No evidence to suggest coronavirus cluster 5 variant found in minks increases virus transmissibility, disease severity
SARS-CoV-2 not the last virus to spark a pandemic, says expert
The Hindu Explains | Who are the top contenders in the race for a COVID-19 vaccine?
The vaccine networks India will rely on and the challenges ahead | The Hindu In Focus podcast
Study advances use of indomethacin for treatment of mild cases
How an asymptomatic player turned super-spreader
How close are we to getting a COVID-19 vaccine? | The Hindu In Focus podcast
WHO warns against pursuing herd immunity to stop coronavirus
Studies document in-flight transmission of coronavirus
Experimental study finds how coronavirus can spread while speaking
Can universal masking be a crude ‘vaccine’?
The Hindu Explains | Is COVID-19 setting off a bradykinin storm in the body?
Coronavirus | Lung damage in COVID-19 dead may shed light on ‘long COVID’: study
The Hindu Explains | What does herd immunity mean for COVID-19?
The Hindu Explains | What do we know about Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate Sputnik V?
Coronavirus | Russian vaccine generated strong immune response, says Lancet study
Watch | Is COVID-19 intensifying in rural India?
The Hindu Explains | Why is Phase-3 of COVID-19 vaccine trial complicated?
The Hindu Explains | What are the long-term effects of COVID-19?
The Hindu Explains | Are there re-infection fears around COVID-19?
Watch | COVID-19 and children
The Hindu Explains | Is SARS-CoV-2 a latent virus which can recur?
Watch | What is an immunity passport?
WHO says COVID-19 by far its worst global health emergency
CDC says revised guidance on coronavirus spread posted in error, removes it
Coronavirus | Plasma therapy may look promising in treating COVID-19, but it is no magic bullet
Coronavirus | Different kinds of SARS-CoV-2 exist in India but none more lethal than the other: Indian Academy of Sciences President
The Hindu Explains | Is airborne transmission of COVID-19 a risk?
Watch | What are serological surveys?
The Hindu Explains | Why is a psoriasis drug being used to treat COVID-19 patients?
Video: In conversation with Andrew Pollard, Director of Oxford Vaccine Group
Watch | All you need to know about pulse oximeters
Coronavirus | Why are only a fraction of cases tested?
Coronavirus | Vaccine was rapidly synthesised as novel coronavirus sequence was available, says virologist Gagandeep Kang
A step closer to developing a potent drug against novel coronavirus
Coronavirus | The importance of ‘contact tracing’
Coronavirus | Are diabetics more prone to COVID-19?
Private firms ready to test for COVID-19
Coronavirus | How does soap use help in tackling COVID-19?
Fight for the finite: On budgetary allocation for health
Coronavirus | A problematic testing strategy
Fighting COVID-19 together for a shared future
Scientists get ready to test rival COVID-19 pandemic vaccines in animals
You are reading
Coronavirus | The cost of opacity
Watch | COVID-19: Masks and sanitisers are now essential commodities
A COVID-19 control plan made simple
Watch | Your COVID-19 queries answered
Coronavirus | How is India containing COVID-19?
Battle against COVID-19
Watch | COVID-19: Dos and don'ts from the Health Ministry
A COVID-19 response that is quick off the blocks
Watch | Why is COVID-19 not a pandemic yet?
Watch | Coronavirus: Can masks protect you?
Watch | How is India dealing with coronavirus?
WHO’s unexplained hesitancy
Watch | Bats and the novel coronavirus
Coronavirus | India shares two SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences
COVID-19 | We are in uncharted territory, says WHO
Explained | Why is COVID-19 not a pandemic yet?
New COVID-19 epidemic at ‘decisive point’: WHO chief
COVID-19 vaccine may be ready by 2022: SII
Explainer: How WHO names a new disease
WHO names deadly viral disease from China as 'COVID-19'
Explained | When can people transmit the novel coronavirus?
Analysis | For China’s Xi, the coronavirus challenge comes laden with economic costs and political risks
How bats harbour several viruses yet not get sick
WHO declares coronavirus outbreak a global emergency
Watch | What is Coronavirus?
What is the source of the new SARS-like disease reported in China?
Data | The wide, rapid spread of the novel coronavirus
Alarming spread: on novel coronavirus outbreak
Gaps in our knowledge of coronavirus origin need fulfilment: Study
A new virus emerges in China
Next Story