A woman wearing a face mask walks on a street in Hyderabad. India crossed 1 million coronavirus cases on Friday, third only to the United States and Brazil, prompting concerns about its readiness to confront an inevitable surge that could overwhelm hospitals and test the country's feeble health care system.(AP)
A woman wearing a face mask walks on a street in Hyderabad. India crossed 1 million coronavirus cases on Friday, third only to the United States and Brazil, prompting concerns about its readiness to confront an inevitable surge that could overwhelm hospitals and test the country's feeble health care system.(AP)

Covid-19: A million and a manifesto

As the country enters a critical phase (the disease is beginning to spread fast in hitherto less affected regions), here is a 10-point manifesto for the government to consider.
By R Sukumar | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 18, 2020 07:04 AM IST

India crossed a million coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases on Thursday. I expected it to happen over the weekend; HT’s data person (for all things related to Covid-19) Jamie Mullick got it right, though. At the current rate of growth, India could cross the two million case mark sometime in early August, with many of the cases coming from populous states whose health care systems will find it difficult to cope with the challenge. Irrespective of the efficacy of its measures, the government was proactive in the early run of the pandemic in India. As the country enters a critical phase (the disease is beginning to spread fast in hitherto less affected regions), here is a 10-point manifesto for the government to consider.

Click here for full Covid-19 coverage

Test more. I’ve previously suggested a target of 50 million by August 15. That may be difficult now, but I’m told a million tests a day are well within India’s reach. India has conducted around 13 million tests so far according to worldometers.info

At a million a day, it will reach the 50-million mark in 37 days; by the middle of October, it would have conducted 100 million tests, covering a little over 7.5% of its population. That should do.

Enforce the wearing of masks. And hand hygiene. And social distancing. After three-and-a-half months of wearing masks (perhaps even gloves), using sanitizers, washing hands, and social distancing, everyone is tired. It is beginning to show — but the results could be disastrous.

Draft a vaccine plan. What is our vaccine plan? Have we invested in vaccine companies? Or have we struck deals with them the way the US has, doling out billions in return for dibs on a vaccine when it is developed? Have we placed advance orders? I think this is the best way to spend the money that has been collected by the PM Cares Fund.

Appoint a chief scientist — or a Covid Commissioner. We desperately need one to orchestrate the scientific and health care response to the coronavirus disease and to ensure that science, and established scientific processes drive our response to the pandemic. (Some readers and the government may have a question about this. I have an answer: Do we?)

Appoint a data czar. And make all data — testing, geographical spread of the disease, availability of hospital beds, results of clinical trials — public.

Reintroduce daily briefings on how India is doing. Take questions. And share information openly and transparently on caseloads and deaths, gaps in the health care system, the policy response, and scientific and medical developments.

Frame rules for focused lockdowns. As the virus rages through India, a new bunch of hot spots will emerge, showing clusters of infection. The only way to deal with these is to lock them down — but using a standard protocol that builds on learnings from the 68-day national lockdown.

Give children enrolled in a school under the Right to Education scheme a device on which they can access classes (which have all gone online). Actually, why only them, give one to every school-going child who doesn’t have a device.

Announce another stimulus — one that actually underwrites (or funds) businesses, and puts cash in the hands of people. Even fiscal hawks won’t protest too loudly at the use of helicopter money in this situation.

Convene Parliament and parliamentary committees. The pandemic is a once-in-a-lifetime crisis that has affected every sphere of life (and work). Parliament and its committees cannot afford to sit it out.

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