A country of 1.5 billion people is facing the threat of Coronavirus and it has taken everyone by shock. People of India who would celebrate every festival with pomp and show are observing their festivals at home. The cities have come to a standstill after PM Narendra Modi announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown in order to contain the virus. The lockdown meant that all Indians must stay at home and all non-essential services such as public transport, malls and markets will be shut down.  

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The nation’s unity in showing strength can be measured by the figures of Coronavirus cases in India. It is worth noting that despite being the world’s second-most populous country and the fifth-biggest in terms of economy, with trade connections all over the world, the country appears to have avoided the full hit of the pandemic. As we report, India has only 606 confirmed cases of coronavirus and twelve deaths. 

As far as the cases concerning China, where the outbreak was first identified, has more than 81,000 confirmed cases in a population of 1.39 billion. 

Although the Prime Minister has maintained there is no sign of community spread, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has also praised India’s swift response, fear remains that the country is still vulnerable to a wider and damaging outbreak as experts hold the opinion that India is not testing enough people. Hence, the true reason for the issue is unknown. 

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According to the WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan, India had taken all the steps which are necessary to prepare for the virus and had been communicating well with the public. However, she also added that it is always better to be over-prepared and to be overcautious than to be caught off guard.

Ground Reality of Outbreak in India

As far as the number of cases is to be gauged at, the country has relatively few confirmed cases. However, another factor which comes into the picture is- Are we testing enough? 

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Few experts believe that India should test extensively like other countries as the only way to control this disease is by testing early and quarantine the ones infected by it. However, the fraternity from the Indian Council of Medical Research believes that there is no need for ‘indiscriminate testing’.

According to the director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research, Balram Bhargava, the country has a test capacity of 60,000-70,000 per week. 

Irrespective of the number of cases ratio to the population, it is to be noted that this can’t be treated callously.PM, too has cautioned against being complacent and stated that how a mere assumption that the disease won’t affect India at large scale is not to be thought of. 

Modi ji’s caution is very much likely as like many other countries, the confirmed cases in India are connected to overseas travellers. If we look at the first few cases of Coronavirus, they were a result of travel history to Italy. And, if hypothetically or categorically, the numbers are but a result of lack of testing, it can pose a threat to India in future.  

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Another reason that the number of cases in India is not as much as that in other countries is because of the temperature. The temperature in our country is often more than 30 degrees Celsius and if the theory that influenza thrives in cold and dry conditions is the same with CoronaVirus then it’s good for India else it can be a major problem for the country. 

What can an outbreak do to a country like India?

India is already fighting with the sanitation measures and standard of living and in case of an outbreak; it would become quite a difficult task to manage it. 

The government, WHO and other governing bodies are encouraging citizens to self-isolate, wash their hands and stay at home. However, the underlying issue here is that in order to meet these restrictions and measures, water supply, high standard of living will have to be provided to people.

With 29.4% of the country’s urban population living in slums, many of them are deprived of bathrooms and running water, it will make it difficult for them to maintain hygiene and wash their hands regularly. 

Another problem is to maintain social isolation. If we are to look at the figures, there are 455 people per square kilometre (or 1,178 people per square mile), according to World Bank statistics — significantly more than the world average of 60 people, and much higher than China’s 148.

Will a nation-wide lockdown be a challenge?

Lockdowns are a threat to the economy for every country. It puts people’s jobs at risk, trade is affected and what not?! However, in India, a lockdown is synonymous majorly with Jobs at Risk. 

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As per the statistics from 2011-2012, in India’s labour market, there were around 400 million people out of which, more than half were self-employed and 121 million were casual workers which means that they had irregular work and were only paid for the days they worked. 

Sensing the issues beforehand faced by India’s cleaners, household workers, and construction workers, the Ministry of Labor and Employment has issued a notice to businesses, asking them not to terminate employees or cut salaries.

Modi has already expressed his concern for the millions of workers who rely on a daily wage. In his speech, he stated that in such a time of crisis, he requests the business world and high-income segments of society to as much as possible, look after the economic interests of all the people who provide them services. He further added that in the coming few days it is possible these people may not be able to come to office or their homes. And, given the gravity of the situation, he asked them to treat them with empathy and humanity and not deduct their salaries. 

The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state Yogi Adityanath also said that each of the 1.5 million daily wage labourers in his state will be given 1,000 rupees via direct transfer to help them meet their daily needs.

However, despite these measures by the government, not everyone is likely to be benefitted.

GDP and other issues faced by India

Other than all these issues being faced by India, the most important is underprepared health system; with lack of medical supplies and trained staff in the public health sector aggravating the issue.

According to the World Bank, India spends about 3.66% of its GDP on health — far below the world average of 10%. As far as the specialists are concerned, there are only about 50 to 60 specialists in India who have received formal structured training in handling infectious diseases.

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Although, it would be incorrect to say that India’s health system is not resourced at all! There are few states which are well-resourced, well-equipped whilst there are others which are weaker. So the focus really needs to be both in the short term and the medium to long term on strengthening the health systems in those states where it is relatively weak.  

Addressing the same, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare stated that the government is working with all of India’s states to increase the capacity of health facilities.

We hope things get better with the lockdown and we resume lives happy and healthy.

(With statistical inputs from CNN)

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