Fear of coronavirus has the country under its grip. Many state governments have ordered the closure of schools and colleges, movie halls, gyms, malls etc. Air traffic has fallen, which is indicative of reduced economic activity. Stock markets in India and around the world have slumped to levels unseen in the recent past.
All these visible signs of the effects of Covid-19 have already influenced the public behavior, at least in big cities. People are only talking about the coronavirus and trying their best to make sense of it and do whatever they can to save themselves and their dear ones from its impact.
This time, the government machinery acted quickly in using all the available modes of communication to spread awareness about the virus. The use of ringtones to spread the awareness is a unique way that succeeded to a large extent in making the common people aware of their responsibility in containing its spread.
The novel coronavirus is a new coronavirus that has not been previously identified. The virus causing COVID-19 is not the same as the virus that causes mild illness, like the common cold.
Early information out of China, where COVID-19 first started, shows that some people are at a higher risk of getting very sick from this illness like older adults, and people who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease.
The data available from Italy, another badly affected country, shows that of the patients who died there, 42.2 percent were aged 80-89 years, 32.4 percent were between 70-79 years, 8.4 percent were aged 60-69.
COVID-19 is a disease very similar to influenza. It seems to cause similar symptoms and to progress in a similar way to flu. As a respiratory disease, COVID-19 is transmitted in a similar fashion to the flu, via direct contact with respiratory droplets. Hence, one might hypothesize that it would behave similarly to the influenza virus in other ways as well.
Learning from the experience of other countries severely affected by this virus, containment seems to be the best option available for us. Accordingly, screening of all the inbound passengers from abroad and particularly from the worst affected 15 countries including China, South Korea, Italy and Iran, quarantine seems to be the most potent weapon in combating the spread of coronavirus.
Preparing the Health system, hospitals and testing facilities to cope up with the emerging scenario are the other important aspects of fighting the pandemic. Supply of essential items like masks and drugs also need to be ensured everywhere for public confidence in the system.
The important thing to keep in mind is not to create panic among the masses. The fact that as compared to the number of confirmed cases reported in India and the reported deaths due to COVID-19, other diseases have taken more lives in the last one week.
There is no doubt we need to do everything we can to contain the spread of coronavirus, but we should not press the panic button and shut down the country and all its activities.
It has become administratively convenient to shut down schools and colleges at the first available opportunity without bothering for the cost to nation and society. If the panic reaction shown by a few state governments is not checked, others will also be forced to panic button in knee-jerk reactions. The already depressed economic situation and the job market scenario should also figure somewhere in the ruling dispensation’s frame of reference while taking decisions about closing commercial hubs, market places, educational institutions, malls and movie halls.
(The author is a former secretary of Government of India. Views are personal)