India free of coronavirus, but the threat remains

Published on Feb 24, 2020 06:29 PM IST

With new outbreaks in Asia and Europe, the country cannot let its guard down

Indian citizens undergoing final sample collection and tests inside a quarantine facility set by up ITBP, New Delhi, February 14, 2020.(HTPHOTO)
Indian citizens undergoing final sample collection and tests inside a quarantine facility set by up ITBP, New Delhi, February 14, 2020.(HTPHOTO)

With the last of the three Indian students with novel coronavirus (Covid-19) in Kerala being declared disease-free last Friday, India is officially free of the virus, but the threat of an outbreak remains high with a worldwide surge in cases with no clear link to China. What has complicated infection-control protocols further is China confirming asymptomatic transmission of the infection, which has now been reported in 29 countries. The virus, which has infected close to 80,000 people and killed around 2,600 within three months, is now causing localised outbreaks across continents. Coronavirus cases have crossed 760 in South Korea, climbed from three to 152 in north Italy over a single weekend, and killed eight in Iran.

India must work in an emergency mode to stop infection by installing more thermal scanners and trained staff at all other ports of entry, training hospital staff on quarantine protocols, ensuring adequate stock of protective gear and supporting drugs, and being prepared to set up quarantine wards, especially in underserved states. Despite huge funding committed for vaccine development and scientists leveraging existing work on vaccines and rapid response platforms with Covid-19 genetic sequences inserted to speed up vaccine development, a preventive vaccine is unlikely to be ready before 18 months. Till then, the traditional containment protocols of diagnosis, surveillance, quarantine, supportive treatment, transparent data sharing, and global partnerships in vaccine development are the only ways to end infection.

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