The outbreak of the new coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, began in China and has since infected more than 124,000 people across more than 110 countries and territories around the world. More than 4,500 people worldwide have died after being infected with COVID-19.
India has conducted nearly 5,000 COVID-19 tests so far, according to the World Health Organization, which says that the “country is responding with urgency as well as transparency.” But so far, India has only reported 74 confirmed COVID-19 cases and one death.
But, some experts say India — a country of more than 1.3 billion people — likely has many more cases than the conservative numbers currently being reported. Health Minister Harsh Vardhan says India began screening people at airports from 17 January onwards, six days after Chinese state media reported the first known death from an illness caused by the virus and a good two weeks before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a global health emergency.
How Has India Responded So Far?
The Indian government has recommended residents avoid or postpone mass gatherings until the spread of COVID-19 is contained. The Ministry of External Affairs has advised against conducting the Indian Premier League, but has left the final decision will rest with organizers.
Only government-run hospitals administer the COVID-19 test, which is free, according to Quartz. At least 52 labs across India can test for COVID-19, according to the WHO.
Experts say India’s responses to previous disease outbreaks have been relatively strong. When Ebola hit West Africa in 2014, India developed some good testing centers and protocols. When Nipah, a virus with a mortality rate around 95%, hit Kerala in 2018, the human-to-human transmission was contained, although 17 people died. But Nipah was significantly more localized than COVID-19. Containing the new coronavirus is significantly more complicated than responding to Nipah and Ebola and requires a more sophisticated response from the public health system, especially because COVID-19 has flu-like symptoms and is sometimes asymptomatic.
India also announced the suspension of “all existing visas”until April 15, apart from certain special exemptions, diplomatic and employment visas among them. The change will not apply to foreigners already in India but no more tourists can enter the country.
All incoming travelers to the country, including Indians, who visited China, Italy, Iran, the Republic of Korea, France, Spain or Germany after Feb. 15 would be quarantined for at least 14 days, authorities have said. The Indian army is setting up quarantine facilities across India to house about 1,500 people, according to the media. However, some experts think that the number may be too little as compared to the population of the country.
More than 1 million passengers have so far been screened at airports, according to health officials. Indian citizens have also been advised to avoid all non-essential travel abroad and the government says it has so far evacuated more than 900 people from COVID-19 affected countries, including Iran, China and Japan.
Misconceptions about the coronavirus are sweeping through Whatsapp, but also with the help of some government figures. In January, the Indian government through the Ministry of AYUSH, which promotes alternative forms of medicine, published questionable advisories about homeopathy and unani (a type of herbal practice) as ways to prevent coronavirus infection. Homeopathy has been widely dismissed by public health experts as not being effective for any health condition.
The fact-checking website Alt News determined the government’s claims were “false” and “dangerous.” “The homeopathic drug ‘Arsenicum album 30’ cannot prevent a COVID-19 infection as claimed by the Ministry of AYUSH,” said Sumaiya Shaikh, a neuroscientist working in Sweden and science fact-checker for Alt News, in a post on the website after reviewing research papers on the drug.
These remedies also tend to be cheap, she notes, which could explain homoeopathy’s popularity in India even as some countries have banned funding for the practice. Elected officials from the BJP have promoted unproven therapies, too. Suman Haripriya, a BJP lawmaker in Assam, suggested that cow urine and dung could be used to cure the coronavirus. Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath suggested that COVID-19 and other diseases could be overcome with the help of yoga.
Although misinformation can be common during an outbreak across different countries, India’s problem involves more than just arbitrary messages.
So there has been a good amount of measures taken to prevent the virus, even though there is a lot of misinformation out there. Overall, only time can tell if we are equipped efficiently, but so far the containment and tests have been going well.