Medical staff with protective clothing are seen inside a ward specialised in receiving any person who may have been infected with coronavirus, at the Rajiv Gandhi Government General hospital in Chennai.(REUTERS)
Medical staff with protective clothing are seen inside a ward specialised in receiving any person who may have been infected with coronavirus, at the Rajiv Gandhi Government General hospital in Chennai.(REUTERS)

India rejects US intel fears on its ability to tackle coronavirus outbreak

Indian health ministry officials did not offer a comment on the assessment, but some officials, while asking not to be named, said India was prepared to deal with any emergency.
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By HT Correspondent
UPDATED ON FEB 29, 2020 04:47 AM IST

American intelligence agencies monitoring the global spread of coronavirus and the ability of governments to respond have flagged concerns about India’s ability to cope with a widespread outbreak, a news report said on Friday quoting officials who believe the outbreak could overwhelm the healthcare machinery.

While there are only a few known cases in India, news agency Reuters quoted an American intelligence official as saying, it is India’s available countermeasures and the potential for the virus to spread given in the country’s dense population that is a source of serious concern.

Indian health ministry officials did not offer a comment on the assessment, but some officials, while asking not to be named, said India was prepared to deal with any emergency.

“Thermal screening is on at all major international airports, sea ports and at crucial land borders neighbouring countries like Nepal. People with travel history to affected countries are being closely monitored under community surveillance by the state integrated disease surveillance programme units,” said a health ministry official, asking not to be named.

“The network of labs has tested about 3,000 samples and only three samples have tested positive so far. Dedicated quarantine facilities have been created that are also capable of managing cases. AIIMS Delhi has an isolation facility ready and is also testing samples. Safdarjung also has a 50-bed quarantine facility on stand-by in Delhi, same level of preparation is there in other states under the centre’s supervision. There is nothing to panic as of now; we are being extremely vigilant,” this person added.

Unlike in certain cases outside India where people re-tested positive for Covid-19 after recovering, the three positive people from India are disease-free, and have been discharged from hospital.

“Risk conditions are there such as dense population etc but that’s true for all infectious cases. Why jump the gun? India is unlikely to have animal-to-human transmission; for India person-to-person transmission is a concern because of travellers but that too can be managed. In the past India has managed to successfully curtail infections and minimize damage, like in case of Nipah, and even swine flu. We are preparing to the best of our resources, and there’s nothing to worry as of now,” said Dr Chand Wattal, chairman, clinical microbiology and immunology, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.

He added that a rise in temperature could lead to drop in cases.

“It looks like a temperature sensitive virus that will go away on its own once the temperature hits around 30 degrees,” Dr Wattal said.

But, according to news agency Reuters that quoted an unnamed WHO expert, there is no evidence as yet to believe the virus will behave differently in different climate. “Coronavirus can transmit the same in China as it transmits in Mexico and we need be ready for that,” this person said, according to the agency.

Separately, a senior US health official told lawmakers in US on Friday that the coronavirus is unlikely to disappear till next year and that many more cases should be expected in the United States, according to a source who attended a briefing on Friday.

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