By K Raveendran
The success achieved by India in containing the deadly coronavirus attack, the global toll of which is fast approaching the next milestone of 100,000 deaths, has the world wondering as to how such an overpopulated country with all its failings and poor healthcare infrastructure has managed to do what even the most advanced nations with all their medical advances have failed to deliver.
The numbers present a superlative picture for India, perhaps a bit surreal too. Thanks to prompt measures by the central and state governments, culminating in the declaration of complete national lockdown, India reported 600 confirmed cases of covid-19 in 55 days since the first confirmed reported case, while Spain reported 33,000 cases and Italy 64,000 cases in a similar period. An analysis of the rate of increase in confirmed cases across various countries from 100th case onwards indicates that while India had 1,071 cases of confirmed cases in 12 days, Canada had 3,409 cases, South Korea 5,186 cases, United States 6,344 and Spain 7,988 cases.
Most of these countries have since overtaken China, the epicentre of the virus attack, in terms of the number of deaths as well as affected patients. President Trump, who initially described the new coronavirus as a joke, has since told Americans that the country would be deemed to have done very well if the death toll could be restricted to within 100,000.
The daily death toll from coronavirus in the US has already crossed 1,800 this week, marking a new global high for the number of deaths linked to the virus in one country in a single day. Worse still, a Washington Post analysis of early data on the spread of the disease showed that coronavirus was killing black Americans at a disproportionately high rate.
What made the big difference for India is the fact that the government took precautionary measures much ahead of what many other countries did to protect their people. India started thermal screening of air passengers even before the first case was reported in India while most other countries initiated thermal screening in stage II and stage III of infection in their countries.
India initiated thermal screening at twelve major sea ports and 65 minor sea ports across the country. Thermal screening of passengers was also initiated across the land borders. A total of 15.25 lakh passengers were screened at the airports, 40,000 people were screened at the 12 major sea ports and 65 minor ports and 20 lakh people were screened at all land border posts. Over 3 lakh passengers were either brought under isolation or monitoring as per risk profile while treating symptomatic cases in hospitals.
Visuals of China building a dedicated coronavirus hospital in the space of 10 days had captivated the imagination of the world. A 60,000-square-metre structure with space for 1,000 beds and 30 intensive care wards was completed just a little over a week after it began, with a team of 7,000 carpenters, plumbers, electricians and other specialists worked round the clock.
India has not seen anything as dramatic as this, but several small measures together created a big impact, with existing hospitals having been dedicated exclusively to handle coronavirus cases. State governments were asked to identify adequate isolation beds and ICU beds in existing government as well as private hospitals. With a view to ensuring the availability of adequate hospital beds, state governments earmarked dedicated hospitals and wards to handle the cases on a war footing. Similarly, unoccupied non-hospital buildings were converted into temporary covid hospitals.
The government instructed central ministries, including defence, railways and paramilitary forces to create dedicated covid blocks and hospitals as part of facilities under their control. It is estimated that so far in the collective efforts of central as well as state governments some 1.35 lakh isolation beds have been identified. Further rail wagons are being converted as isolation beds.
While most countries had made a serious mistake of undertaking coronavirus tests on a mass scale too late in the day, India moved quickly to enhance testing facilities, which were almost nil before the outbreak of the virus attack. From a single laboratory in January 2020 at Pune, a total of 118 labs are now operational in different parts of the country, with adequate geographical distribution of testing with a capacity to undertake samplings of 15,000 tests per day. Given the size of the population and the vastness of the country, this is indeed a herculean task.
Further, the government has already coordinated with 47 private laboratory chains, which have more than 20,000 collection centres across the country, which extends access to large parts of the country.
The country has still a long way to go before it can be pronounced that the deadly virus has been seen off its borders. But surely, it has made a good beginning, which makes it stand out. (IPA Service)