Are we prepared?
With confirmed cases rising to 4,515 from 2,835 in a single day as per China's national health commission, the novel Coronavirus (nCoV) scare has spread like wildfire across the world. While the epicentre of the outbreak — Wuhan — has been carefully highlighted and subject to travel restrictions, cases have been reported in other countries, urging everyone to step up their preparations. The death toll from the nCoV has risen to 106, rising with each passing day as China attempts to arrest the virus. Amidst the chaos, the Ministry of External Affairs has confirmed preparations to evacuate Indians stranded in Wuhan in the light of the virus's outbreak. But at the same time, India ought to prepare should any case is reported here. Already, people who came from China in the past week have been screened and under observation. A total of 33,552 passengers arriving in India from China in 155 flights had been screened as per PTI. While preparations for screening and isolating those infected are in place, a standard procedure to deal with the virus has to be promulgated. Several instances corroborate that India's crumbling healthcare infrastructure might not be able to contain and manage a nCoV outbreak in the country. India's urban congestion puts it at severe risk of a widespread outbreak — allowing nCoV to spread faster. Perhaps restricting it to those infected and placing them in quarantine is our best bet in arresting the spread of the virus. But while we focus on screening and isolating infected persons, we ought to pay attention to our healthcare infrastructure. With Budget just around the corner, India has to realise the importance of a well-oiled healthcare mechanism that can not only tend to the overburden of diseases that India faces but handle novel viruses such as nCoV should there be an outbreak. India spends a mere one per cent of its GDP on health whereas China expends 6.36 per cent of its GDP as of 2018. China, being far more equipped to handle such outbreaks, finds itself perplexed in restricting the virus — quarantining Wuhan and adjoining areas while imposing travel restrictions worldwide. It even committed itself to 'construct' a hospital with 1,000 beds in record time specifically to deal with rising number of patients. That is something easier-said-than-done in India. Coronavirus serves as a reminder of why India needs to improve its health budget and consequently its health infrastructure. Without the requisite capacity as well as the prevalence of stark poverty, India is a ticking time bomb. It is time to treat nCoV as an eye-opener and focus on the health mechanism in our country.