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Coronavirus : Most Serious Threat to India

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Coronavirus (Photo Credits Wikimedia Commons)
(Dr Pentapati Pullarao)
 India like the rest of the world is in the hands of the most toxic Pandemic Coronavirus. Pandemics don’t come with an invitation or announce their arrival.   A Pandemic comes suddenly and without notice and becomes impossible to control. Each such disease is entirely new and there is no vaccine or medicine to treat it immediately. The richest countries and the most noted doctors don’t know what to do about a Pandemic.
 Experts say that millions will die before the Coronavirus disappears. Already in Italy with a population of 7 crores, 6000 people have died. That means in a country with India’s population that would be 120,000 deaths. And that is only the beginning. Can you imagine what Indians would do if 1 lakh people were to die within a week? Hospitals, government offices, and Ministers would be swamped.
When deaths occur in huge numbers, people lose their humanity and become brutal. That is what will happen in the world if Coronavirus hits us as it is doing in Italy and Iran. I cite a gory event that took place in Africa. In 1994, in an African country Rwanda, in just 100 days, 800,000 people belonging to the Tutsi tribe were slaughtered to death by the majority Hutu tribe. But now Rwanda is carrying on as if nothing happened. Rwanda had a population of only 28 lakhs and they killed 8 lakhs in 120 days. The world watched. Disease like Coronavirus has occurred through history and has killed huge populations.
  1. The Black Death, which occurred in 1347 WAS also known as the Great Bubonic Plague was one of the most devastating pandemic in human history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 7crores to 20 crores in Europe and Asia. The Black Death was the first major European outbreak of the plague . Nearly half of Europe’s population died then.
  2. The 1918 Influenza pandemic was the most severe pandemic in recent history. It was caused by a virus that originated from birds and the number of deaths was estimated to be 50 million worldwide.
  3. AIDS has claimed an estimated 35 million lives since it was first identified. AIDS came from a virus that likely developed from a chimpanzee virus that transferred to humans in West Africa in the 1920s. For decades, the disease had no known cure, but medication was developed in the 1990s.
  4. The 2009 Swine flu pandemic was caused by a virus that originated in Mexico in 2009 before spreading to the rest of the world. In one year, the virus had infected as many as 140 crore people across the world and killed nearly 575,400 people.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome(SARS) is a viral respiratory disease.  In November 2002, an outbreak of SARS in China, resulting in 774 deaths reported in 17 countries, with the majority of cases in mainland China and Hong Kong. In late 2017, Chinese scientists traced the virus to the wild animal Civet and to cave-dwelling horseshoe bats in China.
Status of Coronavirus:   Coronavirus is related to the earlier SARs epidemic which also originated in China in 2003 and from animals. As in the case of SARs in 2003, China was very late in informing the rest of the world about Coronavirus too, though doctors detected it in November 2019. The local Chinese officials suppressed the news, creating a worldwide epidemic.
In the modern world, if an epidemic is detected early, then there are means to isolate the patients and control the spread of the disease. There is no immediate cure or medicine. But the first step is to contain the disease. This could not be done with the Coronavirus, as China suppressed the news.
World Health Organization and Coronavirus: World Health Organization said that the best way to control Coronavirus is to test widely. It is better to test widely as you never know who has the disease. In this manner, South Korea and Germany have succeeded in stopping Coronavirus.  The USA is adopting the same formula now, as South Korea of isolation and most importantly, testing widely.
India is a very large country with a 135 crores population. Unlike European countries, Indians live in dense settlements, close to each other. There is also poor sanitation and hygiene. ..Even if you ask Indians to isolate themselves by “Social Distancing “, it is difficult to avoid each other. This is a major problem for India.
The future of the disease: If you do nothing and let it expire by itself, it is expected that in the USA, there will be 1 million deaths. But if you start opposing Coronavirus, then the deaths will come down.  The USA has started doing mass testing and making vast medical treatment plans. Testing is the way to find out which people are infected. By testing, if you identify sick people early, then they can be treated and isolated so that they don’t pass on the disease.
Italy is the worst-affected country with Coronavirus. Iran is also another badly affected country. The question on everyone’s mind is when this disease will jump across to Pakistan and Afghanistan to India.
India and Coronavirus: The Indian government first came to know of Coronavirus in January 2020. The delay of inaction has been deadly for India. On March 22, 2020, the government of India declared a curfew. But curfews cannot stop Coronavirus totally.
What India can do?
**Wide and massive Testing is the only to stop Coronavirus. South Korea and Germany used Testing to stop Coronavirus. The top Virus Disease Specialist in the USA, Dr. Anthony Fauci has categorically said that the only way to stop the Virus is widespread testing. WHO Director-General Tedros simply said that the way to control Coronavirus is “Testing, Testing, Testing “.
**Prepare Hospitals to receive a huge number of infected patients: Governments must prepare all hospitals to receive an immense number of patients. It is impossible to increase capacity within days. Therefore, the government must ask hospitals to do “Hospital Surge Capacity”. That is to make adjustments and get ready to increase capacities without new buildings.
**Increase number of ventilators available immediately. Coronavirus is a lung-affected disease. Breathing becomes difficult and lungs need ventilators to help the patient survive. Try to get the maximum number of ventilators on an emergency basis as Coronavirus is a ventilator-dependent disease. There is already a shortage of ventilators in India. Where are the Ventilators in the Telugu states? There are not available even for regular need.
**Get medical colleges involved. They would serve as immediate Resource points in all the districts. Medical colleges have been totally left out of the Loop. Medical colleges have students, staff and bed capacities. The government should press them into service and provide them with testing kits and ventilators urgently.
No steps are taken to build Tent-Hospitals for quarantine and treatment in any city or population centre in the country. The existing hospital capacity cannot cope with an epidemic. If suddenly we have 5 lakh patients, where will be put them?
**Conjuring up potential scenarios: When there is a major disaster or a war, governments must make models of various scenarios. In many countries, the worst-case scenario has been developed regarding Coronavirus. Our government has not done any assessment of how bad the disease might become. In the USA, one model 2 weeks ago said that nearly 10 lakh people will die. But after-action started a week ago in the USA, that figure has come down. What is the “Worst-Case Scenario” in India? No one knows.
**Social distancing: Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that only “Social Distancing will stop Coronavirus.  Why did the Prime Minister not think of “social distancing “2 months ago? There has been a big delay on the part of the government.  Social distancing is part of the weaponry against Coronavirus. But the medical treatment, hospitals, and the latest equipment are needed.
Large publicity is given to bringing back a few hundred students from foreign countries as if that is a very big achievement. It is actually a routine matter.  But little publicity has been given to the failings of government in meeting Coronavirus head-on.  .
Problems in India:
  1. There is a big shortage of ventilators. State and central governments have not even today made efforts to buy them overseas or make them here. This will become a serious social and medical problem, once the disease starts hitting big numbers.
  2. There is also a lack of ICU beds. The Health Ministry has been very slow in organizing such things…
  3. There was also a delay in massive Testing. Germany and South Korea are good examples whereby massive testing they have controlled the spread of the disease.
  4. Coronavirus will see that the economy falls by 35 to 40%. Nearly 20 countries have already announced massive stimulus plans. India is yet to get serious about the economic stimulus to face the unemployment and closure of businesses.
The road ahead is unknown.  But one thing has come out. Such viruses usually start with bad food, bad sanitation, and bad health practices. Each of these diseases from a thousand years had its foundation in some unhealthy practice.
The great Bubonic plague of 1390 started with rats carrying the disease everywhere in Europe.
The latest Coronavirus started from China from their habits of eating wild animals and then keeping animals in cages to be slaughtered when a customer buys them. Modern China is a victim of its old dirty practices.  The world blames China for its habit of eating wild animals. .The world has given great emphasis on solving medical problems like cancer, kidney disease, cardiac problem, and even diabetes. But the world has not attended to infectious diseases, which take away crores of lives within a short time.
Many people thought that the world faced great dangers from atom bombs, nuclear weapons, militaries, and climate change. But the biggest enemy is the unknown enemy and that is viruses. India should emulate the USA and start institutions dedicated totally to infectious diseases. We have the brainpower and we should direct them to such health issues.
India is still in Stage 2 of the 4 stages of Coronavirus.  So let us wait. But our governments have to prepare very quickly and wisely. The government has to invest money and not merely emphasis “cost-free” Social Distancing through curfews.  The government has not invested enough in fighting Coranovirus. State governments got nothing so far. Speeches are good. But money and action are the best.
French philosopher Joseph de Maistre said: “A nation gets the government it deserves “. Time will tell us very soon if Narendra Modi is just another Prime minister who will fail or a great man of destiny. Modi’s name and India’s fate are in the hands of a distant Virus, which is invisible. Depending on how Coronavirus affects India, politicians will have to explain their delays and inaction in the  future
(Dr Pentapari Pullarao is a noted economist and political commentator)