By: Dr Abhijit
Coronavirus in India: The cases will definitely increase. There’s no doubt about that. But the govt didn’t have any alternative. This was unprecedented in the history of the world. No one could have predicted it.
So, every nation, every govt did things that they thought fit. There was no role model for them to act.
In the hindsight, we can say what went wrong.
The govt should have given a 7-10 days notice for people to return back to their home, to give idea of what to expect before the clampdown started.
There was no real plan. All they had was wishful thinking.
1. They thought the strain in India is milder. So, few will get serious disease. (the disease is milder in younger and healthy people across the world. There’s nothing special about that. India had large % of younger population. So, that might be one reason for our relatively lower rates of death/admissions). In fact, overall, we will fare worst against many countries in the world.
2. The govt thought (wished) that the virus won’t survive the heat. It’ll die down during the summer in India.
This was foolish wishful thinking even from the start as most of our early cases were from Saudi and Dubai returnees.
3. The govt was expected to invest large capital and manpower in prevention and quarantine facilities.
Prevention as is making quality masks and PPE kits available at affordable prices. They didn’t. There was black market of n95 masks for almost 2 months. The masks which used to cost 160-170 earlier had to be bought for 400-450 in black. It shouldn’t have been the case. The production should have been romped from January. It didn’t happen till April. Same is the case is hand sanitizer. Then there are large number of fake masks available which are of no use. They’re sold as n95 masks but are flimsy. They can’t protect against infection.
4. The govt made a cardinal mistake of giving legitimacy to questionable Ayurvedic and homeopathy medicines/treatment that everyone knew are unworkable.
It just diverted the attention/wasted resources and worst of all, gave a false sense of security to many, which proved disastrous.
5. We should have invested in expanding quality quarantine facility. People were put in makeshift quarantine centers which lacked even basic amenities like toilet or drinking water. Obviously, there were instances of ppl not wanting to stay there.
The manpower overseeing them was also inadequate. There was complete lack of empathy in them towards those who were put in the quarantine. They were seen as criminals instead of victims.
6. The govt didn’t do much and in fact many in government pushed forward this agenda of making the Tablighi Jamaat a fall guy. There was an attempt to put all the blame on them. And it succeeded in many ways. It served their political purpose. But it in fact worsened the overall situation where they were blamed for everything and the govt just shifted the blame of their inaction whereas if the heads were rolled are that time, it would have saved the govt lots of issues later on.
7. In many countries, they appointed top epidemiologist/virologist or a senior doctor as a one man authority to deal the Covid19 situation in a scientific way. He would not have any political compulsions to toe one particular line. And people would have believed in him. Dr Fauci in America and Dr Christian Drosten in Germany were those guys, who inspired lots of confidence in public and doctors who knew they are in safe hands. They do daily briefing where the numbers were talked. Future strategy discussed and were told in no uncertain terms what to expect.
In India, nothing of that sort happened. Our health Minister was conspicuous by his near total absence during the whole period. The govt of India stopped inviting ICMR top guy from press conferences altogether when he criticized govt’s actions.
They stopped the regular updates on numbers by ICMR. They indulged in under reporting and also started questionable protocols of giving HCQS when in the whole world it’s banned from use in Covid cases and in preventing it.
8. There was zero training of doctors. No official updates were provided by govt. The private doctors and clinics were victimised if they had any positive cases by closing them down for 14 days.
If they voluntarily closed down, then also they would be victimised by threatening to cancel their license.
The govt could have used the amazing private doctors manpower in disseminating the information.
It didn’t happen.
Now, come to the opening of the lockdown when the cases are rising:
The cases would have risen, no matter what. This infection is new and it’s going to stay till almost 70% of the population is infected. Lockdown only served to slow the pace. We were expected to put lots of quarantine facilities in place. This didn’t happen. So, we’re looking at the sudden rise in cases without any facility to treat them.
The govt had no other option. The economy was suffering. People were restless. Industries were restless. The govt first believed that the virus remains in the body for 12- 14 days. Hence, all they had to do was wait for 21 days and it’ll vanish. That’s what industries also believed. Workers also believed that. But when there were extensions of lockdown, they all become restless. The labor, most of them migrants, started the reverse migration to their homes by any means possible. Industries too feared that once they’re gone, everything will fall down and they won’t be able to start even when the lockdown was lifted. Everyone just wanted to restart. The govt was under pressure. It had to give in.
Truth to be told, there was no way out for them.
Now, we can only do things at individual level. We’ve to take utmost care by maintaining social distance. Avoid unnecessary contacts. For the next few months at least, the life won’t be normal as it used to be. There will be restrictions in every activity.
For many things, you shouldn’t do it even though govt has allowed it. Like, unnecessary travels and coming together in large gatherings, especially in closed places should be avoided.
(Dr. Abhijit practices medicine in Maharashtra)
The views expressed above are author’s own.