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Last Updated : Mar 06, 2020 06:35 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

In Depth | Coronavirus in India: Preparedness, challenges and the political slugfest

Amid the assurance given by the government that it is taking all the steps to check the spread of coronavirus in India, Opposition has slammed the actions.


India is scrambling to counter an outbreak of novel coronavirus after over two dozen cases were reported various regions across the country.

The virus, which started in China’s Wuhan on December 31, 2019, has now reached 85 countries and territories with the number of cases rose to 97,510, including 3,345 deaths.

As of March 5, a total of 31 confirmed cases of COVID-19 was reported in India. Of these, 17 cases were in Jaipur, six in Agra, three in Kerala, four in Delhi and one in Telangana. Hospital isolation of the cases, tracing and home quarantine of the contacts are ongoing in these localities.

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The government of India is constantly assuring that with the collective efforts of the central ministries and states and Union territories, precautionary measures have been taken to prevent the spread of the disease. The government further assured that the measures have not only been taken for people residing in India, but Indian Embassies across the world are on the job wherever there has been an outbreak of coronavirus.

COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself is personally taking a lot of interest in the preparedness of India to deal with the situation, Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs Raveesh Kumar has said.

The PM has also appealed the people to not panic. "There is no need to panic. We need to work together, take small yet important measures to ensure self-protection," he has tweeted.

How the government is dealing with the situation?

With the number of positive cases of coronavirus in India climbing to 29, a sense of alarm seems to have set in among the government circles.

In the wake of the situation, the Union Health Ministry said India has imposed additional visa restrictions on people travelling from or having visited Italy and South Korea, making it mandatory for them to submit the certificate of having tested negative for COVID-19 from laboratories authorised by the health authorities of their countries.

The government has also suspended visa on arrival (VoA) issued on or before March 3 to Japanese and South Korean nationals who have not yet entered India.

Regular (sticker) visas/e-visas granted to nationals of China, issued on or before February 5, were suspended earlier. It remains in force.

Besides, the health ministry has mandated screening of all foreign nationals since March 4 and has started in most airports from March 4.

In Pics | Coronavirus: Here's all you need to know; precautions to take

Earlier, travellers from only 12 countries were being screened at airports.

Union Chemicals and Fertilizers Minister Sadanand Gowda has assured there is no shortage of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) for at least three months. APIs are the raw materials required to produce medicines. They are also referred to as bulk drugs.

The Union Health Ministry on March 5 asked states to form rapid response teams at the district, block and village levels, stating cases of community transmission have been observed.

A look at state-level preparedness:

Delhi

As concerns mounted over spike in coronavirus cases, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has formed a task force, each has been constituted in all 11 districts, and said efforts are on to screen the people who came in contact with the infected Delhi man and 16 Italian tourists.

Isolation wards in 19 government and six private hospitals are being readied in case of need across the national capital and thermal scanning of all passengers landing from abroad is being conducted at the airport, Kejriwal said.

A coronavirus testing lab will be set up at the Lady Hardinge Hospital and also at the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan (LNJP) Hospital if necessary, the chief minister said.

The Delhi government has also advised head of departments (HoDs), autonomous bodies and municipal corporations to suspend the biometric attendance system in the wake of coronavirus outbreak, an official told news agency PTI.

The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) said it would increase the frequency of cleaning on its premises in view of the coronavirus outbreak. It has also issued dos and don’ts in both English and Hindi regarding the virus.

Uttar Pradesh

The Uttar Pradesh government has set up an 18-member committee led by the health minister to monitor the overall situation in the state amid coronavirus scare. Strict directives were also issued to all the districts asking them to maintain round the clock vigil to identify any suspected case of the virus in the state.

Special screening is being maintained as per the directives of the central government at the airports and also in districts on the Indo- Nepal border, sources said, adding that isolation wards have been setup at all the district hospitals, medical colleges and other hospitals and they have been equipped to deal with any emergency situation.

Medical teams with ambulances have been posted at all the border chowkis of seven districts on the Indo-Nepal border namely Bahraich, Lakhimpur Khiri, Shravasti, Maharajganj, Siddharth Nagar, Balrampur and Pilibhit.

Maharashtra

In Maharashtra, of the 167 travellers quarantined since January upon landing at the Mumbai airport, only nine are currently admitted to isolation wards. The state has not reported any confirmed case of virus infection.

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has asked people not to panic over the coronavirus situation in the state, adding the next eight days are crucial and people need to remain cautious.

The CM said he is reviewing the situation on a daily basis since the last one month. Testing facilities have been put in place in Mumbai, Nagpur and Pune, he said.

The state has further instructed authorities to provide masks and required clothing to cleaning staff of international flights when they land in different airports of the state.

Hotel managements have also been instructed to check if foreign tourists coming to their hotels have undergone thermal screening, said the chief minister.

Bihar

Bihar houses Bodh Gaya Being, which is being the place where Buddha had attained enlightenment, attracts Buddhist pilgrims from far and wide including the Far East where adherents of the faith live in large numbers and which is among the regions worst- affected by Covid-19 disease.

Similarly, the Nepal border is also a route that travellers from adjoining countries like China are known to take for entering Bihar.

Considering all these factors, the Bihar government is taking necessary steps to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus and called upon the people to be aware while avoiding panic.

Goa

A British national was quarantined for suspected coronavirus infection in Goa on March 5.

To date, six suspected coronavirus patients were quarantined at ward 113 of the state-run GMCH. "Four of them tested negative and were discharged. Reports of other two are awaited," said the dean of the government-run Goa Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) Dr Shivanand Bandekar.

Meanwhile, to fight against the deadly virus, the Goa government has set up ten-bed isolation ward each at three facilities to deal with suspected cases of the novel coronavirus, Health Minister Vishwajit Rane has said, adding that the state is following the guidelines on coronavirus issued by the World Health Organisation.

Besides these states, other states are also taking steps on their level to prevent the spread of the virus. For instance, the Arunachal Pradesh government has set up a control room and also activated rapid response teams amid the coronavirus scare. Also, isolation wards have been set up in Srinagar.

Myths on coronavirus

While the central and state government are taking efforts to prevent the virus, it is important for the public to not decide whether they are infected through the information available online, but go for tests in specialised labs that are certified to do so.

Also, they are advised to not believe in myths related to the disease.

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has said it is important for people to access authentic and credible sources of information regarding the disease.

One of such myths is that the virus spreads in low temperature. However, Indian Council of Medical Research director-general Balram Bhargava has said the change in weather will not have any impact on the spread of novel coronavirus. There is no relation between the decline in temperature and the spread of the virus, he has said, adding that the virus does not spread through the air but human contact.

There are several other myths which are doing the rounds, like taking a hot bath prevents the virus, it can be transmitted through goods manufactured in China or through mosquito bites, ultraviolet disinfection lamp or hand dryers are effective in killing the virus, spraying alcohol or chlorine all over the body kill the virus, pets at home spread the virus, vaccines against pneumonia protect against the virus, eating garlic help prevent infection, and more. However, they are NOT TRUE! The World Health Organisation (WHO) has clearly said that these are just myths and has no effect in preventing infection from the novel coronavirus.

Politics

Just like the myths, political slugfest over coronavirus is also buzzing.

Amid the assurance given by the government that it is taking all the steps to check the spread, Opposition has slammed the action taken.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi likened the assurance by the Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan that the government has the coronavirus crisis under control to the Titanic captain telling passengers not to panic as his ship was unsinkable.

Gandhi has been raising concerns over the coronavirus infection since long. In a February 12 tweet, he had said coronavirus is an extremely serious threat to "our people and our economy".

"My sense is the government is not taking this threat seriously. Timely action is critical," he had said.

Meanwhile, another furore arose after a Rashtriya Loktantrik Party MP, Hanuman Beniwal, gave the Lok Sabha some explosive coronavirus advice on March 5, as he asked to test Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.

The remark did not go well with the Congress members, who stormed the Well of Lok Sabha strongly protesting and shouting slogans, tearing papers and throwing some on the table of the Speaker.

The Congress further said Beniwal made the remark at the behest of PM Modi.

Meanwhile, as the virus has marked its presence in India, what are the challenges that India face? Take a look:

Population

India has the second-largest population in the world, next to China, which is the epicentre of the deadly coronavirus. As per latest reports, China currently has 80,409 cases, of which 3,012 are fatal. The country has seen 139 new infections and 31 deaths between March 4 and March 5.

In the wake of the 31 confirmed cases of the coronavirus infection in India, the government is taking all possible measures to prevent the spread of the virus in the country. But given the size of India’s population, this task is gigantic. Faced with this new reality, the authorities will have to be on their toes, with active public participation holding the key.

Myth busters and awareness programmes

There are several myths surrounding the virus, as mentioned in this article, which need to be busted so that it doesn’t cause panic.

Although the ministers of the Centre and state governments are appealing to people regarding the same, more needs to be done.

For instance, the way the government of India is planning to launch an awareness programme about Census 2021 and update of National Population Register (NPR), the same could be done in case of coronavirus.

In the programme, the government should aware people about the personal hygiene to be taken care of to prevent the virus, symptoms of the viral infection and educate them to reach to the nearest medical facility in case they see any said symptoms for early detection of the infection.

Cleanliness at government facilities

The reports about the poor level of cleanliness at government health facilities have been widely reported at times. As the most important prevention of the deadly flu is cleanliness, it is important for the Union and state health ministries to make sure the isolation wards and quarantined facilities maintain hygiene.

Impact on Indian economy

The coronavirus may not impact India directly as much, but the Indian economy, which is just about showing some signs of recovery, may not escape unscathed, Abhishek Goenka, Founder and CEO of IFA Global stated in an article.

Trade deficit prints may be lower for the next couple of months, thus the country may see the price of consumer durables inch higher. This would drive core inflation higher, which is showing signs of bottoming out, he said.
First Published on Mar 6, 2020 06:35 pm
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