The story of coronavirus pandemic management in India

At the time of writing India has become the second-worst affected country by coronavirus pandemic and the number of confirmed cases stands at 4,224,014. The daily rise in cases is slowly inching up towards 100000 cases a day with no signs of the infection slowing down despite almost 3 months of lockdown. While every other country has slowed down but India seems to have bucked the trend completely and continues on the n-1th wave. This blogpost aims to highlight what went wrong in India’s fight to contain the infection.

First, I would like to add that Coronavirus is a serious disease but in a country like India where more people die of dengue, malaria, TB, etc. India as a country responded with lockdowns because unlike the other diseases this disease afflicted the poor and the rich alike. The absence of treatment compounded the problem and the middle class and the elites of the country responded in a way never seen ever at least in India. 

The govt. for a change responded quite proactively by announcing a lockdown as a response to the pandemic to slow the spread of the virus. But what the government. Did before and after announcing the lockdown left a lot to be desired. Before the lockdown was announced travellers coming from abroad were allowed to go home without any tests or any need to isolate at home. This drove the first wave and spread the disease far and wide. Only thermal scanners were deployed in the airports to check for signs of increased temperature to detect infected patients. The govt. In terms of the looming pandemic, there was still wasn’t scaling up testing for covid19. So despite being proactive mover we failed to check the infections.

Once the lockdown was announced, the Govt. failed to properly indicate the length of the lockdown. All of a sudden millions of casual workers in Indian cities were left jobless and with limited means and uncertainty surrounding the length of the lockdown decided to take the journey back to their rural homes. But there was no transport available and the workers had to literally walk hundreds of kilometers and hardly practiced social distancing and to add on there was no rule yet on compulsory usage of face coverings. So there is no study which might indicate a few infected people in those huge crowds may have helped spread the disease to the hinterlands. Testing was negligible in the big cities so you can imagine what would be the state in the hinterland.

The testing in India was very lackluster, to say the least. India hit the milestone of 1 million tests a day only on 22 August 2020, some 147 days after the first lockdown was announced. So by the time, we might be testing enough the infection has spread wide and far. And one of the most puzzling things is that the govt. Even now doesn’t admit that community transmission is rampant and maintains there is no community transmission. With over 4 million cases I wonder how well the contract tracing is going on? I will give a few examples from states which despite not being ruled by the BJP have failed in performing any better than the central govt. The first would be Delhi. Delhi was staring at a gargantuan outbreak and daily around 4000 cases were being detected with around just around 10-15 thousand tests being conducted. There were stories of hospitals overwhelmed with patients and a lack of communication to family members of patients. The central govt. Intervened and the number of tests went up and more facilities were created to help manage the situation. Slowly things started improving but again the govt. became complacent, the number of tests remained stagnant around 20 thousand when testing needed to be scaled up significantly to make sure that the virus is contained well. Now Delhi is seeing a resurgence of numbers and the Delhi govt. Is scrambling to increase the number of tests and playing a blame game with the Central govt. 

The second case would be West Bengal. From 18 July onwards WB has been reporting cases around 2000 positive cases with 13 thousand odd tests and on 6 September the figure stands at 3thousand positive cases on around 44 thousand tests. During this intervening time, the number of cases has remained constant between 2 to 3 thousand despite the number of tests tripling.  On the outside, it seems WB has everything under control and the curve has been flattened very well but when you talk to people on the ground you get to hear stories and the backlog of test results, the state of hospitals be it public or private. Given a state with WB population (Around 91 million), the testing still remains very low. But the state govt. Even now has failed to scale up testing and keeps blaming the Central govt. For lack of tests. And this despite the fact that Indian test manufacturing companies are planning to export more than 10 million test kits.

The point I was trying to make is that the govt. Be at the state level or the central level has failed miserably to rise up to the occasion. The infection is widely widespread as indicated by the serological studies in the major cities indicating more than 30% of the population might have been infected already. And now the only way to control the infection is simply to test and isolate. There is no point anymore in contact tracing. The govt. Failed to scale up testing during the first 2 months of lockdown when it could have been effectively controlled. And this should be a lesson for us and put in proper operating procedures because this is not going to be the last epidemic and a good example would be the South Korean model. I am sure India will survive this pandemic not because we have amazing governance but rather we have always managed to survive for the last 74 years despite always being at the precipice and not just falling over.

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