All about COVID-19

Battle against COVID-19

A security guard wears a mask as a preventive measure against COVID-19, at a special ward of a hospital in Jammu on Saturday, March 7, 2020.   | Photo Credit: PTI

The international financial order, governments across the world and societies in affected countries are all grappling with the panic over the global spread of COVID-19. Companies across Europe are sending employees on unpaid leave. In Tokyo, officials are battling the most credible threat to the Olympics since the World War. The U.S. and South Korea have called off their joint military exercise. The Iranian Deputy Health Minister, who assured the country that the virus is not a major threat, tested positive himself the next day.

China has quarantined millions of people in entire provinces, and is supposedly using Artificial Intelligence to surveil body temperature and deliver goods, a move that is both unprecedented and unimaginable in any other country.

International responses to the SARS-Cov-2 spread bring up questions about whether India is ready to face a coming pandemic.

India currently has no national strategy to deal with a pandemic in the way that the U.S., the U.K., Japan and Israel do. Unfortunately, pandemic preparedness is not something that can be created overnight when a crisis is knocking on the doors. It requires years of investment in building up a comprehensive health care system, institutes for vaccine research, infrastructure for manufacturing of vaccines, on-ground supply chain measures, a coordinated effort of the private sector, the armed forces and research institutes and a coordination strategy for the Centre, the States and neighbouring nations. While the need for investment in pandemic preparedness is a debate that should have already taken place, the need of the hour for the government is to recalibrate its strategy.

Currently, organisations such as the National Disaster Management Authority, the National Crisis Management Committee and the Health and Family Welfare Ministry are responsible for dealing with public health emergencies. However, a pandemic represents a global emergency which requires wide-scale international coordination, and we are yet to create an agency which can handle the demands for such coordination.

The government has created a Group of Ministers (GoM) which has released a four-pronged strategy: a risk advisory, travel screening, lab testing and quarantine facilities. The problem with such a strategy is that the government is under the misconception that it can prevent the outbreak from even taking place in India. It is still operating under the NDMA’s Disaster Management Cycle, which sees prevention and mitigation as the first steps before even considering responses.

Though SARS-CoV-2 is not as deadly as SARS or MERS, given its contagious transmissibility, it has already claimed more lives. There is the possibility of the virus mutating into something more deadly in the future.

Given these facts, the government urgently needs to do a few things. First, prepare not just for the prevention of an outbreak but for its inevitable spread. That SARS-CoV-2 will spread in India should not be a question dealt with through ‘ifs’ but by ‘when’. Second, our strategy requires having an integrated approach not just on mitigation but also response. While scientists have started clinical trials, even if a vaccine is discovered immediately, its availability and distribution for the public will take at least 12-18 months.

Therefore, in the meantime, the government needs to consider the virus threat not just as a health emergency but as an economic and national security emergency waiting to strike; in China alone, factory output has plunged and the country’s service sectors have contracted.

Separate strategies will be required for inducing greater cooperation among the government, non-governmental organisations and the private sector, between the Union and the State governments, and intergovernmental research coordination. The government needs to increase immediately the mandate and funding of the NCMC, which has the relevant Ministry actors, to deal with all of these issues more effectively.

The effectiveness of the Kerala government in containing the virus creates false hopes that the rest of India will be able to do so as well. While Kerala’s response is commendable, it is also India’s best State when it comes to healthcare infrastructure. For an epidemic outbreak, a nation’s security depends on the strength of its weakest link. In the absence of reliable health infrastructure, the government needs to include the armed forces in all of its preparedness plans. COVID-19 is a wake-up call for our policy makers that health needs to be understood in broader terms as a security issue as well. For a country with borders as porous as ours, where large parts of the urban population live in slums, and with an average population density of 21,000 people per square kilometre, quick transmissions are inevitable. Most Indians are covered, or not, by an overstretched and underprepared healthcare apparatus; the COVID-19 threat is an existential one waiting to fly in through airports, swim through ports, or ride across the country on our trains and wreck havoc.

The government would therefore do well to remember Louis Pasteur’s advice: “Gentlemen, it is the microbes who will have the last word,” and plan for the inevitable, instead of deluding itself that immigration checks can prevent the disease from entering.

sparsh.agarwal_asp20@ashoka.edu.in

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Mar 3, 2021 8:43:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/battle-against-covid-19/article31009923.ece

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
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?
You are reading
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