Covid-19: What you need to know today
Coronavirus update: India’s promptness in scanning travellers, restricting and then entirely barring international travellers from entering the country, and announcing a nationwide lockdown (include complete cessation of train and air travel) till the middle of April should start kicking in now, hopefully flattening the curve.
Deaths in the US from Covid-19 crossed 2,000 on Sunday, including at least 965 in New York State alone, but US President Donald Trump has had second thoughts about a quarantine of the New York region. Instead, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention merely issued an advisory against non-essential travel in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Sure, some states have said travellers from New York have to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine, but the absence of lockdown in one of the Sars-CoV-2 virus’s known hot spots is puzzling. New York State now has at least 59,000 cases and neighbouring New Jersey around 11,000.
Experts have blamed poor and inadequate testing, poorer leadership, and an unwillingness among people to practice social distancing and self-isolation for the US’s problems, which seem far from over. Last week, a data analytics firm released heat maps of mobile phones on a Florida beach where Spring Break parties were being hosted — you read that right, Spring Break parties — and then tracked those phones as they made their way across the country (see page 6). To get on with life as if nothing has changed may be a sign of bravery and fortitude at times of war (or even terrorist attacks); to do so at a time when a highly contagious virus is ravaging the country is a sign of idiocy.
Which is why it is important that India get its hands around the migrant workers crisis. The 21-day lockdown — Sunday was Day 5 — will be of no use if this issue isn’t handled properly. While some states have managed to convince migrant workers to stay behind, others have not. As a result, anything between several tens of thousands and a few hundred thousand migrant workers have flouted the lockdown to travel back home — typically to rural and backward areas where the quality of health care isn’t very good. States that have allowed migrant workers to travel back to areas in their hinterland need to have an effective quarantine and tracking mechanism in place. It will be difficult, but it is required and the ministry of home affairs order to this effect, issued on Sunday, is welcome (see page 1).
This is a critical week for India. The number of cases crossed 1,000 on Saturday. If the trajectory of Covid-19 cases in other countries is any indication, this is the point when the curve starts trending upwards, sharply, in terms of number of cases. India’s promptness in scanning travellers, restricting and then entirely barring international travellers from entering the country, and announcing a nationwide lockdown (include complete cessation of train and air travel) till the middle of April should start kicking in now, hopefully flattening the curve. And as this writer has repeatedly said, India should use this time, which it has bought at a significant price, to strengthen its health care infrastructure — both hard and soft. For instance, some experts have suggested using final year MBBS (undergraduate medical), and nursing students to augment the strength of doctors and nurses (see page 1). It is a good idea — and easy to implement.
India should also use this time to learn more about the enemy. Is the strain of Sars-CoV-2 infecting people in India still the same indicated by initial studies? What explains the emergence of hot spots affected by the virus? Why is the death rate in Italy as high as it is (almost 11%)? How does the virus react to heat and humidity? Why is it that Germany has a high number of infections (60,659) but only 482 deaths (a death rate of 0.8%)?
Some of these answers could hold the key to keeping India safe.