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Limited defences

How prepared is India for a COVID-19 outbreak?

Limited defences

From hot and humid climate to optimum awareness, there has been a lot of talk about how India has, so far, managed to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 on its soil despite positive cases identified in the country. A superficial analysis of the spread also banks on how the outbreak has geographically been restricted to cooler climates. Nevertheless, given India's high population density and low average hygiene, word of caution carries more weight than anything. We cannot bank on those auxiliary unfavourable grounds for the virus as our defence for the same. On Monday, two new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the country that took the toll of positive cases to five. The three cases prior to the two fresh ones were all from Kerala and had been discharged as well following recovery. Kerala's episode gives us confidence but does not allay fears of a possible epidemic, again because of how underprepared we historically have been in a number of ways. China has reported as many as 2,912 casualties besides thousands infected. China's press censorship might very well be understating the figures but a common lesson is that COVID-19 is as dangerous as its predecessors. South Korea, Italy and Iran have each had at least 1,000 cases, with the contagion spreading to at least 58 countries since its outbreak in China's Wuhan in December 2019. It must be noted that these countries had set up a screening apparatus at airports ever since China flagged COVID as an epidemic. Travel advisories were issued. But despite preventive steps undertaken, countries have fallen prey to the outbreak like dominoes. The virus's proliferation rate has been high in South Korea where on Monday, more than 4,800 cases were reported —nearly double of that on Friday. But back home, we have two fresh cases and both are being closely monitored even as efforts are made to track the trajectory of potential spread. The fact that both patients self-reported based on symptoms — cough, fever and respiratory problems — also helps in building public confidence as underreporting is also a major issue in our country.

India continues to screen travellers arriving from Kathmandu, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, South Korea, Singapore and Japan at various designated airports in the country. But the fact that we have two fresh cases slipped despite screening apparatus in place provides for caution in a personal capacity as well. Since a vaccine for the same is months away, India cannot afford an outbreak. Our best bet is to prevent the spread and handle the reported cases expeditiously. The health ministry should urge people with travel history in infected parts of the world in recent times to voluntarily approach medical centres and get tested. India's major cities should adhere to WHO advisory on preventive steps as it is our only guard against the virus at the moment. Washing hands with soap and wearing surgical or N95 masks will serve as a line of defence. While we cannot directly treat the infection, a big lesson from those who have been cured is that individual immunity is the key here. We may be helpless in the face of the virus but we can most certainly take steps to strengthen our immunity. India has initiated community surveillance of thousands and is monitoring suspected cases for traces of the virus. It is absolutely crucial that communication lines between the Health Ministry and the general public are active for any moment can be critical for a local region when it comes to an outbreak. Helpline members have been made available in case people experience symptoms and desire to be tested. India requires more testing centres to be able to expeditiously confirm cases and custom-designed COVID-19 kits installed at hospitals across the country — at least large cities — to allow primary treatment of patients who may be carrying the virus. With a season of weddings, fests, etc., on the cards, exercising caution is necessary. India is also witnessing protests as well as the festival of Holi is around the corner. All these mentioned instances are favourable conditions for the virus to spread like wildfire. It is therefore recommended that people exercise paramount caution and stay updated with the Health Ministry as well as media. There is no telling what turns the virus may take and as discussed, we have limited defences to this all-offensive virus that is wreaking havoc across the globe.

(image from indiatoday.in)

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