Even though first case was reported in China in December 2019, the global community became serious about it only after number of cases increased exorbitantly in the Wuhan province in China. By the time the disease had already spread in parts of Europe. The WHO too was quite late in assessing the seriousness of the situation in its early phase.

Unfortunately, the Indian government did not take it that seriously. This is apparent from the Health Ministry statement on 13 March which said that Coronavirus is not Health Emergency. Therefore, several large congregations, religious, political and social continued to happen. When it became apparent that things may get worse, the Prime Minister suddenly announced for a “Janata Curfew” for one day on 22nd March, and then subsequently, the ongoing 21-day lockdown on 24 March. This sudden lockdown, without giving any time created chaos and split the society into those who have means to survive for 21 days and beyond, to stay at home to protect their health and others who earn and spend every day. The latter form more than 90 per cent of the workforce, which is in the unorganized sector or informally employed in the organized sector, and especially casual labourers who earn on a daily basis, the farm labour and marginal farmers the lockdown is both an immediate health risk and an economic catastrophe.

A lockdown of society, by itself, is not a cure for the COVID-19 epidemic; it is for prevention of transmission and a stratagem for winning some time for the healthcare system updation. Epidemiological models consistently suggest that, in the absence of other factors, the epidemic could bounce back once the lockdown is lifted. If this were to happen at the end of India’s lockdown, the epidemic would hit a society already under severe economic distress, with potentially devastating consequences.

Huge migration is occurring because of fear of being overtaken by Corona, loss of jobs, lack of food and desire to be with family, at a time when the coming period is full of uncertainties. This will have long term impact. In the absence of any transport lakhs of migratory population including women and children are walking on foot for hundreds of kilometres without food & medicines. They are facing hurdles on the way from the state machinery because of which several of them have already died. They are facing hunger, lack of clean water, spending time in unhygienic conditions on the way coupled with uncertainty. Such a situation will push any person into extreme mental stress. The purpose of lockdown is completely defeated under such circumstances. Even the lucky ones who have been able to get the facility to travel in the buses or the trains are in the danger of catching all sorts of infections from each other. The incident where a group of migrant workers were sprayed with disinfectant at Bareilly in UP is not only totally inhuman but a criminal act as the chemical can cause nausea, vomiting, head ache, irritation and damage to eyes, burns in the respiratory tract agitation, delusion, drowsiness, hallucination, impaired judgment, excitement, and mood changes. It would be a sorry state of affairs if the persons responsible for this go unpunished.

Lack of preparedness on the part of the government is becoming a serious issue with every passing day not only for the ordinary people but also for the health professionals. There is acute shortage of masks, sanitizers and personal protective equipment (PPE) for the health professionals and the allied staff. In such situations when we need nearly 10 lakh ventilators in contrast to the present available 40 thousand, the future seems very bleak in case of a sudden surge in the number of cases.

A post lockdown plan is very necessary. We are deeply concerned that the government of India has not released a roadmap, detailing how it plans to deal with the epidemic, once the lockdown is eased. We believe that such a plan should have been put in place before the lockdown was announced, and we urge the government to do so as soon as possible. Such a move would also enhance the confidence of people in the government’s long-term strategy.

The lockdown may succeed in temporarily suppressing the epidemic, at great social cost, but we are concerned that the government is not using this precious interval of time to actually identify as many cases of COVID-19 as possible. Much more testing is necessary. The current restricted testing-policy creates the risk that a large number of mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic cases—which constitute the majority of infections—will remain undetected even at the end of the lockdown period. These cases could easily serve as the nucleus for the epidemic to bounce back.

India is a hub for various types of diseases, both communicable and non-communicable. Our hunger index is at 102 out of 117 countries and we stand at 129 in the Human Development Index out of a total of 189 countries. In the coming days there will be surge in the diseases related undernourishment. There would be increase in the pre-existing diseases like Tuberculosis, Diarrhoea, Hepatitis, High Blood Pressure, Diabetes, Cardiac illnesses, Kidney problems and the Mental Health which till date remains largely ignored.

Under these circumstances the already existing diseases are getting completely ignored. Govt. has announced closure of OPDs. The state healthcare delivery system is incompetent to meet these needs because for years together the state health budget has been hovering around 1 per cent of the GDP. India loses about 1500 lives every day because of Tuberculosis. Since all attention is now diverted to Corona these patients will have difficult times, many of them will enter into the MDR stage. Other common diseases like Diabetes which is presently prevalent in about 12 per cent of our population, Hypertension which is among 25 % of our population, Hepatitis which is a very common cause of death have lost importance in the treatment line. Such patients likely to get worse and their number would increase. Patients with cancer are another category facing sufferings.

Lot of myths are being spread. There are groups who propagate use of Cow urine for its cure. They also say that the sound of ‘Shankhs’ will split the outer wall of the Virus and the virus will be killed. It is very sickening to note that some are trying to give the deadly disease a communal colour. This is in total contravention to medical oath, the spirit of Red Cross and sacrifice of Bhai Kanhaiya a legend in Sikh history who supplied water to even the injured Moghul soldiers during war and earned appreciation from Guru Gobind Singh Ji for his humanitarian work.

So an arduous struggle is on along with minimizing the damage by Coronavirus.
(IPA Service)