OPINION

No end in sight

India must learn from other countries in devising strategies to contain the epidemic

If it took 94 days to reach one million novel coronavirus cases on April 3 after China reported the first cluster of 41 cases to WHO on December 31, the number of days needed to double to two million sharply reduced to 12. It again took just 12 more days to cross three million cases globally on April 27 night. The virus has now spread to 188 countries/regions. The true number of infections will be several-fold higher as most countries have not been testing people who have mild or no symptoms. For instance, in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that those with mild symptoms of COVID-19 who do not meet the criteria for priority testing will not be tested. While new cases have declined in Europe, there is an uptick in Africa and South America. The virus is still spreading quickly in the U.S. — with 0.99 million cases, it has the most number of cases globally, a little more than four times that of Spain, which has the second most number of cases. There have been over 2.1 lakh deaths worldwide, with the U.S. again accounting for the most — over 56,600, which is double that of Italy — over 27,000. New York City alone has 17,515 deaths, which is multiple times higher than that of many countries. The mortality figures too may be an underestimation.

India has reported over 30,300 cases and 973 deaths, based on data collated from States. The number of cases has multiplied several-fold from over 600 since the national lockdown from March 25. At nearly 8,600 cases, Maharashtra has the maximum in the country; Dharavi alone has 330 cases and 18 deaths. With a population close to 1,00,000 that lives cheek by jowl, physical distancing is an impossible luxury. A central team has indicated that nearly 3,000 people might need institutional quarantine in the absence of effective containment in Dharavi. In this context, India could look at the experience of Singapore. Much appreciated for its efforts in almost containing the spread of the virus early on, the city-state has seen numbers rising since late March. Fresh cases have been reported from dormitories that house over 0.2 million migrant workers from other countries. The crowding in the dormitories, which is akin to what is seen in Dharavi and other slums in India, has provided an ideal setting for easy infection spread. Despite shutting down educational institutions and workplaces on April 3, when the number of cases was 1,114, and moving many workers to alternative accommodation and quarantining others, it has not been able to contain the spread; nearly 15,000 cases have been reported as on April 28. As India nears the end of its extended lockdown, it needs to learn from the successes and failures of other countries.

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