The battle against Covid-19
The government’s tough and proactive steps are welcome
India’s tough decision to virtually ban all foreigners from entering the country for a month, and ask everyone, including Indians, to defer travel unless necessary, came an hour before the World Health Organization (WHO) finally declared the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) a pandemic on Wednesday. While WHO lingered over whether to call Covid-19 a pandemic on the grounds that it may fuel panic, India proactively adopted an agile and aggressive disease-control approach that involved daily inter-ministerial reviews and updated advisories, weeks before the first cases were reported in Kerala. All overseas travellers now risk undergoing a two-week quarantine, even as the home ministry has invoked Epidemic Diseases Act 1897, and Disaster Management Acts 2005, to empower the Centre and state governments to forcefully segregate, test and isolate suspected cases. Such disease containment efforts have prevented, so far, the community transmission of Covid-19, with the disease being limited to people who got infected overseas or their contacts in India.
The inconvenient truth is that the world, including India, is not prepared for a coronavirus epidemic and draconian public health measures need to be taken. An epidemic can easily overwhelm India’s already overburdened health system. This makes it imperative to rigorously enforce travel restrictions, surveillance, contact tracing, social distancing, and sharing updated information with the public to stop panic and prevent the spread of infection. With the window of global containment of the virus closing fast, the government is right in adopting assertive infection-control measures, even if these measures cause short-term public inconvenience, restrict personal freedom, and lead to the possible cancellation of popular events.
India must treat the pandemic as a threat to social security that will, if it spirals out of control like it did in China, Italy, South Korea and Iran, destabilise the economy and wreck health systems. United States President Donald Trump’s decision to ban travel from most of Europe is a case of doing too little too late. India must maintain its lead in containment and stop the disease from gaining a foothold within its borders.