New Delhi: The world reels from the new coronavirus threat and India is not an exception. The deadly disease, officially termed COVID-19 by the WHO, has now killed more than 3,300 people worldwide and infected more than 90,000. Alarmingly, it has also reached India with 30 positive cases — the majority reside in Delhi; a group of Italian tourists who had recently travelled to Rajasthan and a Paytm employee with travel history to Italy.
As the virus spread causes concern among the public, CNN-News18 spoke to Delhi Health Minister Satyendra Jain on how well-prepared the city is, to tackle this threat. Excerpts from the interview:
How well-prepared is the state government to tackle this crisis? Especially since it is India's capital and has a lot of influx of migrant population from abroad as well as the country.
In Delhi all preparations have been made. For now there are only two patients in the city, who are from Delhi itself. (Since this interview, one more Delhi resident has tested positive for coronavirus.) The Delhi government has deployed its staff at the airport, screening every traveller who is coming from abroad. Earlier, we were scanning only travellers from four countries but now everyone is being scanned. If we find any coronavirus symptoms in them, we check and isolate them for further testing and observation.
Is Delhi government staff carrying out the checking proceedure?
We are working in collaboration with the Central government but we have deployed our staff, as well.
The thermal checking that is being conducted, is it absolutely effective?
Checking is checking. Thermal scanning lets us know whether a person has a symptom like fever, if they don't, they are clear and can pass. This is why it is effective. Apart from this we have made arrangements in Delhi hospitals. Apart from the two nodal hospitals; Safdarjung and RML, the Delhi government — with its 19 government hospitals and 6 private hospitals — have arranged 230 isolation beds. If need comes, people can be admitted there. Till now, no patient has been admitted under us.
Training of doctors and staff is ongoing. The Delhi government has hospital-owned masks and medicines. We are prepared for a crisis. But I want to specify that coronavirus patients do not get any specific treatment; only symptoms can be treated. However, there is no need to panic, as nothing as of yet has happened to maximum people with the disease; it takes time but they get better.
You said that masks, protective gear and sanitisers are available with you in the hospitals but there has been a shortage of the same in markets, as people have also complained.
The primary solution is to wash your hands again and again with soap and water. Don't touch your mouth, eyes and nose with unclean hands. Suppose droplets from an infected person's land on a table's surface, the virus survive for sometime — 4 to 6 days — and if you touch it, you will get it on your hands.
However, even if you get the virus on your hands, it won't enter your body as there are only three ways it can get inside someone — their mouth, eyes and nose. If someone cannot wash their hands at a certain moment, then hand-sanitisers come into play. That's why sanitisers are not the primary solution. Many think that only sanitisers kill the virus, but soap and water also do the trick.
Is the government taking any steps to prevent the hoarding of sanitisers from medical shops and stores?
It's matter of two to three days. Suppose the old stock gets over tomorrow or day after tomorrow, then after two to three days there will be flood of new stock in the market. What's a sanitiser? It's alcohol mixed with water and packed for sale.
Are you assuring us that there will be no shortage of sanitisers in the market?
No, there will be no shortage and even if that happens, soap and water is aplenty. Hand-sanitisers are mainly required by health personnel, general people do not need to rely on them so much. If you are not a regular user of hand-sanitisers, then you don't need to start now. I was watching one news channel yesterday, where one person was shown as having purchased a 100 hand sanitisers. If suppose you need only two, what's the need of buying a 100?
Such actions create unnecessary panic and I would suggest people to stick to soap and water. The person who got sick; we checked all the 88 people who came in contact with him. We have told them to stay at home and have started treatment and checking for them. If you do fall sick, try not to come in contact with other people.
Greet people with 'Namaste' and avoid shaking hands. Avoid large gatherings, as well. Maintain distance from sick people; if they sneeze and you are close then the droplets can infect you. Such simple hygiene measures are taught to children from the starting.
Yesterday, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said two more testing labs would get ready. What's the update on that, how many labs does Delhi have for testing, till now?
In Delhi right now three labs are working — NCDC, AIIMS and Lady Hardinge. We are working on the fourth one. There is no work load as of now, the labs are working as per capacity. Doctors are deciding who needs to get tested. Just because you have a light cough and cold, doesn't mean you'll have to get tested.
Just try to avoid close contact with people. The virus is not indigenous, it is coming from outside. Avoid foreign travel and participating in mass gatherings. Follow these precautions for another one to two weeks. In about one-and-a-half months only two Delhi residents have tested positive, so the threat should pass soon.
You said the second patient came into close contact with 88 people and it is a difficult task to trace those people and check them for clearance. How is Delhi government doing this? What is the mechanism and protocol it follows?
The Delhi government talks to the patient and asks them about who all they have met. After that, teams are sent to these people and discussions are carried out with them. As you mentioned, it is difficult but we are doing it. If we let these people free, then a lot many might get infected.
We have sealed the hotel rooms/rooms where these people stayed at, and they will only be opened after thorough disinfection. We are focused on limiting the virus' spread, because no particular treatment has been assigned to it yet.
It's being highlighted on social media that homeopathy works as treatment. Is this true?
One should do things that are good for their health and immunity; take good food, exercise and drink water. Immunity is important as nothing happens to 90 per cent of the people even after getting infected. Do what you think is good for maintaining your immunity as there is no specific treatment for coronavirus till now.