Countering COVID: India needs to learn from experiences of Europe and the Americas

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December 19, 2020 5:00 AM

Even though the government has done well to reopen the economy in a calibrated manner, it still needs to learn from the experiences of Europe and the Americas.

Most districts in India are comfortable in terms of hospital infrastructure, but the government still needs to ramp up health infrastructure.Most districts in India are comfortable in terms of hospital infrastructure, but the government still needs to ramp up health infrastructure. (Representative image)

On Friday, India became the second country in the world, after the US, to register 1 crore Covid-19 infections since the pandemic began. While cases in India have declined drastically since September, the country still figures in the top-5 nations with the highest number of case additions. Even though the government has done well to reopen the economy in a calibrated manner, it still needs to learn from the experiences of Europe and the Americas.

Given there was a lag in the spread of infection in India and the Western world—Europe was grappling with Covid cases in March, and India only had a few hundred infections—a relaxation of norms and flouting of social distancing protocols could lead to resurgence. After all, even though the US had succeeded in bringing down its daily infection count from 80,000 to 30,000, it is now averaging 220,000 cases and 2,200 deaths daily.

Similarly, while daily infections in the UK had reached 5,000 during the first wave in April, these declined to 350 in July. However, as restrictions were eased, cases started rising again. On December 17, as per John Hopkins University data, the UK had registered over 35,532 daily cases. The situation across Europe—in Italy, France, Germany and Poland—has been no different. Germany, in fact, has had to impose a partial lockdown till January 10. The country has ordered the closure of schools and non-essential shops; on Thursday, the first day of the lockdown Germany recorded 952 deaths.

Although India has had a better showing than its European and American counterparts in terms of case fatality ratio, it needs to be on guard against rising infections. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has warned of a difficult three-four months. In an interview with this newspaper earlier this week, Dr K Srinath Reddy said that while Asia has not seen the worst effects of a second wave, the threat of Covid cases rising cannot be discounted.

Most districts in India are comfortable in terms of hospital infrastructure, but the government still needs to ramp up health infrastructure. In Spain, where the daily cases have crossed the 20,000-mark, hospitals have started running out of capacity. Testing also needs to increase.

While India has done well to increase its testing capacity from 1 lakh tests per day in May to 11.13 lakh tests on December 18, it has remained stagnant for the last three months. India may be inching closer to approving some vaccines for emergency use authorisation; it will be months or even a year before a significant chunk of the population has access to vaccines.

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