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    Coronavirus – The Contagion

    Many of us had perhaps never imagined that we would be witness to a coronavirus (COVID-19) situation in our lifetime that would brake the world to a screeching halt leading to a complete lockdown of many cities and countries.

    Starting with mammoth proportions in China and spreading its wings across the seas to Japan, Iran, Italy, Spain along with rest of Europe, the United States of America and finally to India, this new virus has been declared as ‘pandemic’ (a disease prevalent over a whole country or the world) by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

    Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO said, “It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.”

    As per the latest update by John Hopkins University, there were 201,436 confirmed cases and 8,000 deaths around the world due to coronavirus till March 18th-19th, 2020 which rose to 338,259 cases and 14,457 deaths on March 22nd, 2020 in three days.

    According to reports, people of all ages can be infected with the novel coronavirus but about 80% recover from the disease. However, older people with pre-existing respiratory problems, diabetes and heart disease or terminally ill people are more vulnerable when exposed to the virus that can be fatal for them.

    With messages going viral on social media, common people like us are naturally fed with all sorts of information leading to panic like situation so much so that people are ready to take part in Gaumutra festivals, drink cow urine and fall sick in the process instead of getting ‘immunised’ against coronavirus!

    While it is foolish to panic, it is definitely prudent to be safe and learn by observing the countries that have suffered due to this virus and follow and take measures to prevent such a situation.

    Italy can be a case study to learn from. The province of Lombardy in Northern Italy where it has been hardest hit is said to be facing an ‘apocalyptic’ situation. With a population of about a little more than a crore, every hospital is facing a ‘catastrophic emergency’.

    Doctors have been compelled to choose between older above 80 patients and younger ones to give first preference for ventilation or oxygen masks. The unimaginable, out of control situation forced the Italian Government to declare a state of emergency and lockdown the whole of Italy.

    Recent news reports show that Italy’s total number of deaths have overtaken those of China. What happened in Italy was unexpected as nobody imagined they would be hit by the virus so quickly. It completely overwhelmed Italy’s health department despite it being one of the best public healthcare systems in the Western world.

    One of the main reasons given for this catastrophic situation is said to be the nature of the coronavirus which even after infection shows no symptoms at all for about two weeks or the infected person may have a cough and a mild temperature which could be passed over as normal flu.

    Infected people without symptoms can spread the virus and can inflict irreparable damage to the health of a community. Many Italians were treated for flu and pneumonia and discharged. This proved fatal to the community.

    Although India is yet to come to the stage of community spread which is considered to be Stage 3 of the disease, it would be wise to prepare in order to prevent the scale of damage that may occur. As a preventive measure, India has closed all schools and colleges, pubs and bars, banned large public gatherings and advised social distancing.

    Social distancing is yet to take off in India. People are still indulging in social visits to friends and relatives houses. Weddings are still being held in different parts of the country. In Assam, rallies by political parties in support of candidates during filing of nomination papers for the ensuing BTC elections were seen on television.

    In a hugely populated country like India, an Italy-like situation will spell doom. The call of a ‘Janata Curfew’ by the Prime Minister on Sunday is perhaps a rehearsal for a complete lockdown. But the call for clapping by the Prime Minister to express gratitude to health workers as was done by Spain and Italy got misinterpreted by a large number of people who got carried away and gathered around beating steel plates with spoons crowding the streets and neighbourhood as if such an action would chase novel coronavirus away! Instead such action exposed children and adult alike to the dangers of the virus.

    India is a country that seems to thrive on misinformation too as we got to see people posting on social media that the 12-14 hours ‘Janata Curfew’ was meant to ‘break the chain of transmission’ of infection.

    People were seen posting such posts with the belief that it will ‘break the chain’ which according to a former AIIIMS microbiologist is ‘oversimplification of the matter’. Strict social distancing and personal hygiene is the only way forward to remain safe and along with that the Government needs to have serious plans and concrete measures in case of an emergency situation.

    With cases of positive tests and deaths in India rising rapidly every day, our preparations have to be warlike. We urgently need increasing testing facilities in our towns and villages, availability of adequate numbers of ventilators and oxygen masks in all hospitals should be ensured, preparations for increased creation of isolation wards and quarantine facilities have to be made throughout the country on a war footing. Since hospitals may be ill-equipped to cater to a large infected population, middle range hotels may be identified to be converted into isolation wards or quarantine centres.

    The WHO had published a comprehensive Interim Guidance Manual with the objective that countries can ‘prepare when there are no cases, sporadic cases, cluster of cases, community transmission, or country-wide transmission’.

    In the document titled ‘Responding to community spread of COVID-19’, it has a compilation of technical guidance for government authorities, health workers and other key stakeholders to guide response to community spread. Among the highest priority recommendations, apart from ‘sensitise the public to their active role in the response’ is to ‘enhance hospital and community preparedness plans, ensure that space, staffing and supplies are adequate for a surge in patient care needs’.

    It is understandable that for a huge country like India with a poor public healthcare system, it is not possible for the Government alone to contain a calamity. Our billionaire corporate world can perhaps take a lesson or two from their counterparts around the world to lend a helping hand to the Indian Government at this hour of crisis.

    In France, world-class luxury brand Louis Vuitton is making hand sanitisers which they are supplying free to hospitals. Fashion designer Armani Group have donated 1.25 million Euros to hospitals in Italy.

    Likewise luxury sportswear brand Moncler has also donated for the construction of a hospital in Lombardy. Most of the wealthy Italian business houses have done their bit in providing aid to help their country in these critical times.

    Similarly, legendary Australian cricketer, Shane Warne has announced his decision to make hand sanitisers in his gin distillery ‘SevenZeroEight’ to supply them free for hospitals.

    Can we expect the billionaire Ambanis, the Adanis and other corporate leaders with deep pockets to express the same human values and reach out to help India at this hour of crisis? Perhaps it is also time for them to express their patriotism and gratitude and stand along with the Prime Minister in his time of need.

    What happened in China, Italy, Iran and Spain should be a lesson for us. We need not panic but we need to be prepared for any eventuality. Better to be safe than sorry.

    Along with everyone else, the young have more responsibility as “Every young person is a bridge to an infection by someone at very high risk or serious illness or death. It could be their parent or grandparent or neighbour. Every single person needs to do their part to protect their community” – Joshua Sharfstien, Vice Dean of Public Health Practice and Community Engagement, Bloomberg School of Public Health.

    The author is a socio-cultural worker, TV producer, director. She is also the general secretary and senior spokesperson of Assam Pradesh Congress Committee. The views expressed by the author are personal and may not in any way represent those of TIME8.

    Photo credit: cdc.gov



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