Are We Prepared For Stage 3 Of Coronavirus Transmission
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COVID-19 outbreak has created panic globally with total confirmed cases crossing 6,00,000 (as on 28th March 2020). To prevent its spread, countries across the globe have begun enforcing tough lockdowns. India, the world’s second populous country has followed the suit with a 21 days complete lockdown till April 14th. The virus has been sweeping all across Europe and the US, with confirmed cases growing at a brisk pace.
On the other, India has seen a slow rise in positive cases with total positive cases reaching 900 considering its first case was reported two months back in Kerala (January 30).
Considering its huge population, urban clusters and socio-economic characteristics, the rate of new cases being added in India is still much lower than other countries like China, the US, and European countries.
Therefore, has the government’s decision for 21 days complete lockdown has worked?
The answer is no. India lacks the infrastructure to conduct massive COVID-19 tests. A low number of testing labs and a shortage of testing kits are the primary reason why India has one of the lowest testing rates among all affected countries. As of 27th March 2020, India had conducted just close to 27,000 cases, which is much lower than in other countries. With 6.8 tests per million people, it surely has one of the lowest testing rates in the world.
The government along with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is taking steps to increase the testing capacity like adding private labs and approving homegrown testing kits like MyLab Discovery. Though the testing capacity is still inadequate considering the massive population of 130 crores these measures will add more screening centers across the country leading to a more accurate picture of the number of active cases in the country.
More screening of suspects is important considering India has a high risk of entering Stage 3 of Virus transmission. This stage results in the transmission are happening at a large community level with the source of infection not known for the majority of the infected population and new positive cases can no longer be traced to diagnosed cases. Countries like Italy and China are already at Stage 4 of the epidemic. Though, ICMR and the government continue to maintain its stance that there is no evidence of India entering Stage 3 but experts from all over the world have suggested that India is either already there or between Stage 2 and Stage 3 of the virus transmission cycle. Recently, new cases with no history of exposure to affected persons have just added to the expert’s claim.
So, if India enters Stage 3 of coronavirus, how well prepared are we?
Considering, how this stage has created havoc in countries like Italy, Spain, the US, and China, with new cases being added in thousands, India surely not seems to be prepared for this outbreak. Following are the reasons
- India has an estimated 0.7 hospital beds per 1000 people- a ratio that is lowest in Asia. Several reports suggest the number of infected people in India growing exponentially in coming months. This will surely depend on India’s testing capacity. Thus, very low availability of beds will complicate it further.
- Less availability of medical equipment especially ventilators, a device for patients in critical condition, will provide a challenge in handling the large influx of patients at Stage 3 cases of the transmission. As per reports, India has a mere count of 40,000 ventilators; most of them are with the private institutes. This figure is therefore grossly inadequate when cases surge. Besides this, a shortage of masks, sanitizers, and scrubs will hamper India’s fight against the virus.
- India has just one doctor for every 1,404 patients against the World Health Organization (WHO) standard norm of 1 per 1,000 people. Also, India averages 1.7 nurses per 1,000 people, against the WHO standard of 3 per 1,000. In the worst case of scenario when pandemic worsens, Indian medical structure will surely collapse.
As the threat of further mass crisis looms, the country surely needs to be prepared for such an endemic. It’s difficult to contain this virus but to stop further transmission; this lockdown period needs to be extended, considering the current rise in the number of cases. The government has stepped up efforts to prepare for Stage 3, like growing its medical facilities and equipment through imports and local manufacturing. Besides this, the various business communities have offered support to add to these initiatives, for example, automobile manufactures Maruti Suzuki and Hyundai manufacturing and supplying testing kits and ventilators and Tata Trusts offering Rs 1,500 crore to support boost healthcare facilities of the country.
Strict lockdown, robust healthcare facilities and high testing centers across the nation are the most important steps. These efforts will surely help the Indian government prepare to combat coronavirus.