Health and Healthcare Systems

This is how India is reacting to the coronavirus pandemic

Men wearing protective masks walk inside the premises of a hospital where a special ward has been set up for the coronavirus disease in Mumbai, India, March 17, 2020.

People in a Mumbai hospital where a special coronavirus ward has been set up Image: REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

Emma Charlton
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • The COVID-19 infection rate in India remains low relative to population size.
  • Some credit fast government action to quarantine people and shut borders.
  • Response is “impressive” says the World Health Organization.
  • But officials are still preparing for broader outbreak and community transmission.

India reported its third death from COVID-19 on Tuesday.

Despite being the world’s second most populous country, with more than 1.3 billion people, the nation has reported three deaths and around 150 cases, giving rise to questions about why the virus has not spread as rapidly as elsewhere.

For some, the answer is the fast action that India’s government took as the virus spread from China to many parts of the world. And if the relatively low number of cases continues, it could make the nation a blueprint for others seeking to limit the impact.

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Taking rapid actions to limit travel by suspending visas and quarantining all incoming travellers has helped. All international passengers entering India undergo Universal Health Screening. According to health officials, more than 1 million passengers have been screened at airports, limiting the entry of coronavirus.

The response also mirrors India’s reaction to previous disease outbreaks, including Ebola in 2014 and Nipah in 2018, when people were quickly put into quarantine or under surveillance. Indian citizens have been advised to avoid all non-essential travel abroad, and citizens have been evacuated from Iran, Italy, China and Japan.

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“Apart from ensuring the safe return of hundreds of Indians from China, Iran and other countries, the Indian government has taken decisive measures to contain community spread,” said Sriram Gutta, Head of Community Development, India and South Asia at the World Economic Forum.

“While these measures will have short-term economic impact, they will ensure the safety and welfare of Indians.”

A “novel coronavirus” landing page on the Ministry of Health’s website gives the numbers of phone helplines, as well as detailed advice and guidelines. Actions like these have been lauded by the World Health Organization (WHO), which is leading the global charge against the virus.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government was quick to recommend residents avoid or postpone mass gatherings until the the virus is contained. The Ministry of External Affairs postponed the Indian cricket league and state authorities are shutting schools, gyms and swimming pools in the worst-hit regions.

Such responses are “good and impressive,” according to the WHO.

“India is doing quite well,” said the WHO Representative, Henk Bekedam.

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Even so, the nation still faces many of the same challenges as other countries, including limiting unauthorized gatherings and debunking fake health messages circulating on social media. The global economic impact will be hard to avoid, with the United Nations’ trade and development agency predicting the slowdown in the global economy caused by the coronavirus outbreak is likely to cost at least $1 trillion.

The Public Health department of Maharashtra on Wednesday said that consuming more garlic, curry leaves or cow’s urine would neither treat nor prevent coronavirus infection. Instead, they urged people to practise good hygiene, contain coughs and sneezes and eat nutritious food.

The Director-General of the Indian Council of Medical Research Balram Bhargava said on Tuesday that community transmission of COVID-19 has not yet occurred in India, meaning people who contracted the virus did so from a known source.

Even so, officials are preparing for it to happen, with private laboratories authorized to test for the virus, freeing up more capacity for diagnosis and detection. Restaurants are also shutting, with the National Restaurants Association advising members to close at least until 31 March.

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If the statistics continue to show a relatively low infection rate, then India will have helped lead the way in containing coronavirus.

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Health and Healthcare SystemsGlobal RisksGeographies in DepthGlobal CooperationStakeholder Capitalism
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