India needs to go beyond symbolism - GulfToday

India needs to go beyond symbolism

BRP Bhaskar

@brpbhaskar

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Modi-new-750x450

Narendra Modi. File

Large parts of India are under lockdown to break the chain of transmission of the Coronavirus which has already made its appearance in more than half the states.

Happily, for the time being at any rate, politicians have set aside divisive slogans which sharply polarised the country in the recent past and led to last month’s communal violence in the national capital in which more than 50 people were killed.

In the light of the known history of the virus, which causes Covid-19, a disease with no sure remedy as yet, experts have said this week is crucial for India.

The week began with a symbolic nationwide 14-hour self-quarantine on Sunday in response to a call by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He named it “people’s curfew”.

Modi asked the people also to go to their balconies and clap hands at an appointed hour to show their gratitude to the medical and paramedical personnel leading the fight against the virus.

According to media reports, the “people’s curfew” call evoked a good response. The Central and state governments had made a big contribution to its success o by cancelling passenger trains and buses.

Even as people were in self-quarantine, the Centre asked states to lock down 80 districts (out of a total of 732 in the country) from where Covid-19 cases were reported. Several states went farther than the Centre had proposed.

With all passenger trains and inter-state buses cancelled and states taking measures such as closing the borders and banning assembly of more than five persons, movement of people across the country remains severely restricted.

The Prime Minister, in a tweet on Monday, said many people were not taking the lockdown seriously.

“Please save yourself, save your family, follow the instructions seriously,” he told the people, He asked state governments to ensure that rules are followed and to impose penalties on those who violate them.

Most of the restrictions now in force are due to expire on March 31. The authorities are expected to review the situation before that date and take a decision on their continuance.    

The Coronavirus threat has come as India is set to replace China as the world’s most populous country in 2022.

In China, where virus originated, the worst appears to be over, with the number of deaths at 3,261 as on Sunday. Of the 81,054 people infected, 72,440 had reportedly recovered.

Italy became the hotspot last week with its death toll rising to 3,405. Reports indicate that the United States may overtake it soon.

Covid-19 cases in India are still few: only 415 infection and seven deaths were reported till Monday morning.  Of those infected 41 are foreigners.

However, there are reasons to suspect that the situation may be graver than these figures indicate. For one, testing facilities are inadequate and the authorities initially limited testing to people with symptoms and travel or contact history.

They have now decided to expand the testing facilities and to test all patients with pneumonia and acute respiratory infections.

The Centre claimed there was no evidence of community transmission of the disease. But the fact is there has been no documentation of community transmission so far. An official of the Indian Council for Medical Research admitted they were not in a position to say if there has been community transmission.

Although China fumbled initially, it was apparently able to limit severely the spread of the virus beyond the Hubei province. In India, infections have been reported already from 16 of the 29 states and two of the seven Union Territories.  

Maharashtra tops the list with 89 cases, followed by Kerala with 67 and Delhi with 36. All three are states with comparatively better medical and public health infrastructure than the rest.

Cases reported from eight other states also run into two-digit figures. The wide spread of the infections renders the task of containing the virus daunting.

Going by the words of the World Health Organisation’s emergency expert Mike Ryan, the measures taken so far, with emphasis on restricting people’s movement, fall short of requirements.

In a BBC interview Ryan said that unless there are adequate public health measures there may be resurgence of the virus after the lockdown.

“What we really need to focus on is finding those who are sick, those who have the virus, and isolate them, find their contacts and isolate them.”

There is clearly a felt need to expand the programme to check the spread of the disease and take it beyond symbolism and sloganeering with inputs from competent professionals.

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