Covid-19: What you need to know today
The big focus for India this week will be containment of Covid-19 and enhanced testing, at least in the containment zones.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the United States’s top infectious diseases specialist, said on Sunday that between 25% and 50% of people infected with the Sars-Cov-2 virus, which causes Covid-19, are asymptomatic – one reason why it makes sense to wear masks. And British PM Boris Johnson was, on Sunday evening, hospitalised (for tests, the announcement said), 10 days after he was found positive, highlighting just how bad the situation in the country is (51,608 cases as of Monday evening, with 5,373 deaths). While the UK gave up on its building “herd immunity” approach early, the hospitalisation of Johnson, a prominent votary of that theory, highlights just how foolish and wrong it was. And Fauci’s comment underlines the imperative of wearing masks – something many experts initially advised against. In hindsight, there’s nothing as dangerous as a little science in dealing with a new virus such as the one that causes Covid-19.
The big focus for India this week will be containment and enhanced testing, at least in the containment zones. Of the 4,780 cases as of Monday, 31% are from top five cities, 41% from the top 10, and 51% from the top 20. Parts of Mumbai and Delhi have been declared containment zones.
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), around 500,000 of the 800,000 antibody testing kits it has ordered will arrive by April 8. States have also independently ordered these kits. The plan is to use them to test aggressively in containment zones using the protocol already established by ICMR. In Delhi, a private laboratory also launched drive-through testing . India will need more such – to repeat what is perhaps the most-used line in 20 editions of this column. India needs to test more.
That will likely turn up more cases, but it will also reduce two key ratios – the proportion of those who test positive to the total number tested, and the fatality rate.
The week starting April 8 (when the use of antibody tests is expected to begin) will be critical for India, then; it’s also a week when the Prime Minister and the federal government team overseeing India’s response on the pandemic will have to take a call on the nationwide lockdown which is scheduled to end on April 14.
Some states are already believed to be veering towards an extended lockdown, and the thinking in New Delhi is that there should be one, at least in the clusters and containment zones. But there are other issues to be decided as well. Will interstate movement be allowed freely or will there be restrictions? What of air and rail travel? And what of retail stores and businesses?. The answers to many of these questions will depend, at least to some extent, on the data that emerges from the antibody tests.
The decision will also have to factor in the economic impact of the lockdown, not just on people in the so-called unorganised sector and daily wage labourers, but also on businesses, large and small. On Monday, Japan announced an economic stimulus package of $988 billion to support struggling households and businesses . India has announced one, focused on cash transfers and food, aimed at the most vulnerable, but needs to do more to help businesses.
On Monday, the number of cases worldwide stood at 1,323,641, with 73,608 deaths, and the number of cases in India 4,780, with 130 deaths. Monday’s fresh cases were similar to the increase in infections reported a day earlier.
Meanwhile, work on a vaccine continues apace, both around the world and in India. But the timeline for one remains the same – not before the middle of 2021.