Tackling coronavirus: Lessons for India

Widen testing, restrict travellers, cancel public events, and be ready with Plan B
People wearing protective masks, Kochi, March 11, 2020(REUTERS)
People wearing protective masks, Kochi, March 11, 2020(REUTERS)
Published on Mar 11, 2020 04:52 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | By

The math is inescapable. In late February, Italy had 600 confirmed cases of coronavirus. That number is now in excess of 10,000. Some people are terming that exponential growth. It isn’t. But it is geometric growth. And very worrying. Experts in the United States (US), which had around 600 cases at the beginning of this week, are expecting a similar so-called hockey stick curve this week. India has around 60 confirmed cases of coronavirus now. This number will increase. The good news is that there’s no community transmission as of now — but that too could change. By now, India has had enough time to study the responses of China, South Korea, Italy and the US. What should it do?

The first thing is to widen testing. South Korea cracked down on the disease’s spread through aggressive testing. India should make sure it has enough testing kits and also explore using the shorter-duration test China used (most European nations and the US say it isn’t 100% accurate but this is not the time for the great to get in the way of the merely good enough). The second is to restrict and regulate international travel and travellers — inbound as well as outbound. India has already done some of this. It needs to do more, including, and controversially, a restriction on travellers from the US. The third is to cancel public events. Experts call this social distancing. In both China and South Korea, this helped reverse the trend in terms of new cases.

Finally, India should be ready with Plan B. At some point, when the number of cases crosses 1,000, maybe 5,000, contact tracing will stop making sense. The Union health ministry should, by now, have a mitigation plan. The experience of Italy, South Korea and the US is an indication that, at some stage, prevention will stop making sense and the focus will have to shift to mitigation.

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