Coronavirus Impact: India’s battle to fight COVID-19 could be longer

Pranav Jalan
Tuesday, 23 June 2020

India has put its best foot forward in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. But a poor healthcare system for the world’s second populous country, the fight against the pandemic could stretch for another four months.

Coronavirus Impact: India’s battle to fight COVID-19 could be longer

Pranav Jalan

India has put its best foot forward in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. But a poor healthcare system for the world’s second populous country, the fight against the pandemic could stretch for another four months.

Many countries are already at the verge of eradicating the spread of the virus, but in India, the situation is different. When most of the countries have already passed their peak and are on a downward trend, India is yet to reach its peak in late June, and early July.

Almost 9.1 million have already been infected with coronavirus around the world with the fatalities reaching towards the half a million mark. The United States has the highest number of coronavirus cases, whereas India is at the fourth spot in terms of most coronavirus cases.

Countries like New Zealand and Vietnam are among the few which has been able to contain the spread of the virus successfully.

The first case of coronavirus in New Zealand was reported on February 28. The government of New Zealand did a phenomenal job. In three-and-half months, New Zealand managed to be corona-free. Fresh cases were detected last week, making it nine active cases.

Vietnam has a similar success story. Only 349 cases have been reported to date, and there have been zero fatalities. Despite economic and technological challenges, the country has been able to contain the spread of the virus. Currently, there are only 22 active cases with 327
recovered. Vietnam also came into limelight for providing the SARS virus in 2003, and it became the first country to be free of the SARS outbreak.

If a country like Vietnam can recover from the pandemic, then why is India lagging behind? Let’s analyse when various countries went under lockdown and what measures did they take when India dawdled.

In just three weeks since the first detected case, New Zealand closed its borders and entry ports were closed for non-residents, and the returning residents were asked to self-isolate. On the other hand, the first case of COVID-19 in India was reported on January 30, and India took its
first action against the spread of the virus on March 24, after almost two months.

If we compare the response time of both the countries, New Zealand went under lockdown after three weeks of its first case when they had just 53 corona patients. In contrast, India went under lockdown after 56 days with 492 patients. 

A framework to control the outbreak in New Zealand was implemented on March 21. Initially, the alert level was set at level 2, but later on, in the afternoon of March 23, it rose to level 3. The alert level moved to level 4 from 11:59 p.m. on March 25. Whereas in India, PM Modi announced the Janta Curfew on March 22 and the country went under a complete lockdown from March 25.

New Zealand went under a complete lockdown in a stepwise manner. It gradually increased the restrictions imposed on the citizens, which allowed them to stock up on the essentials and gave enough time to people to return to their respective places. While in India, Janta Curfew was followed by a 21-day nationwide lockdown which had piecemeal development of restrictions put by the government. Hence, people were clueless and were left in a state of shock.

One of the major problems the Indian government has indulged in is by trying to cover up its shortcomings by comparing itself to even worse countries. For example, the Indian government has been claiming that the country has a low mortality rate when compared to the US and many countries in Europe. This doesn’t reflect any good-doings of the government; people are still dying. 

What if the government compared itself with countries Vietnam or that matter Malaysia, where the socioeconomic reality isn’t too different.

In India, first death occurred when there were barely 75 people infected with this virus in the whole country. Whereas, in New Zealand, the first person died when there were around 500 people infected with the virus. Vietnam reported zero casualties due to COVID-19, and even Malaysia reported just two casualties when there were a total of 673 cases.  

When India crossed the 1,000-mark, 25 people already died due to this virus. In contrast, in New Zealand and Malaysia, there were only two deaths reported till then. 

Infact, in New Zealand, 1,000 people were infected within just 40 days after the first patient was tested positive. In contrast, in India, it took about two months to reach that number. India had an opportunity to save people and its economy from this crisis, we knew as much as New Zealand and Vietnam did about the virus. But, our government still failed to protect its citizens. 

PM Modi in his speech on March 24, when he announced the 21-day nationwide lockdown, explained the trajectory of the virus, which is, the virus takes around 67 days to infect about 1 lakh people. After that, it just takes approximately 11 days to infect two lakh people. The virus followed its trajectory as predicted, and India took only 14 days to reach two lakh cases, India crossed the 100k mark on May 19, and it crossed the 200k mark on June 3. This was when the lockdown was in place, and the citizens followed the strict guidelines. Now that the lockdown has begun to open with lesser restrictions, it’s beyond imagination how furiously this virus will proliferate. 

Let’s take the worst-case scenario if we compare India to Ethiopia. This country has 0.3 hospital beds per citizens. In contrast, in India, we have 0.53 bed per citizen, even that country had just reported 19 deaths with around 1800 positive cases. In contrast, in India, 50 people died when it neared the 2k mark. 

What went wrong?
Every country has opted only one way to get rid of this virus, that is a lockdown. Without lockdown and social distancing, it’s not possible to eradicate this virus completely. But India also went under a two-month-long lockdown, then why is it that we failed to control the spread? 

One of the reasons is the lack of testing. In the beginning of lockdown, India was just testing around 10,000 individuals. On April 6, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said that India has the capacity to test 1,00,000 individuals daily. At that time testing, one lakh individuals daily seemed like a good number, and we thought that we are going in the right direction. Now, after two months, India is testing over 1 lakh individuals, but now the numbers don’t impress us. If we break it down state wise, Delhi is testing around just 7,000 to 8,000 people every day, which is peanuts as compared to the active cases and the increasing cases every day in Delhi. 

Beijing, which is noticing a wave of COVID-19 cases, has claimed that it has the capacity to test a million per day.

Infact, in Delhi, one in three coronavirus-tested samples came out to be positive in the last seven days. Two thousand two hundred twenty-four people were tested positive for the infection from 7,353 samples taken on Sunday, which makes the positivity rate stand at 30.24 per cent.

Another problem regarding testing is the private labs that are charging a whopping amount for the test. Above this, people are scared to go to a government hospital and get them tested. This is because of the lack of maintenance and discipline of government hospitals. People are scared that even if they test negative, they might become positive after visiting a government hospital.  So people are left with no option, most can neither afford to get a Rs 7000 test done, nor they prefer going to a government hospital.

With a population of over 135 crores, India is the second-most populous country in the world. The country currently seems to be on the track of the world’s most COVID-19 affected country. So, to not secure that position and secure the nation from this pandemic, the government and the citizens need to work hand in hand, without playing the blame game.

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