Covid-19: Crossing 200,000 cases

India now has over 200,000 cases of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19). It is now the seventh most affected country in the world. The only silver lining is that India’s fatality rate at less than 3% is among the lowest of the severely affected countries, which means that while the infection is spreading, it is not leading to as many deaths as elsewhere. While this is a health advantage India must sustain and build on, the situation is worrying.

India crossed 100,000 cases on May 18 and the doubling rate is about 15 days. If this persists, it means that by the middle of June, India may be close to 400,000 cases; by the first week of July, it could cross a million cases. This also means that if the current fatality rate stays static, India may witness close to 30,000 deaths from the disease by early July. While this may be low in relation to other countries, it still represents a staggeringly high loss of precious Indian lives within a period of four months since the disease started spreading in India. Now, take into account the fact that through May, the lockdown was still in force, albeit with greater relaxations in the last fortnight of the month. The country has now substantially opened up, which, all experts agree, could lead to a sharp increase in cases.

This also means that India is clearly in the stage of community transmission, notwithstanding the government’s inexplicable denial of it. The surge in cases will make the process of contact tracing — integral to the treatment protocol and in ensuring that the rate of transmission is limited — far more difficult. It will also strain the health infrastructure. There is no easy solution. But both governments and citizens need to be better prepared. Authorities, both at the central and state levels, will have to ramp up testing, be rigorous with tracing, find more hospitals and beds, and continue to focus on keeping fatalities low. Citizens will have to exercise great care when they step out, maintain social distancing norms, wear masks, and avoid all unnecessary activities. Remember that Unlock 1.0 is not freedom from the disease. Prepare for a difficult month ahead.

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