After relative calm, sudden surge in cases . . .
India’s first positive coronavirus case was reported on January 30 in the southern state of Kerala. Between then and late February, the number of positive cases reported was low. But there was a rapid surge in the number of positive cases after March 3, and the virus recently claimed its first fatality – a 76-year-old man from the state of Karnataka. As of today, 81 people in India have tested positive for COVID-19, including 64 Indians, 16 Italians, and one Canadian national. The cases were reported from 13 of India’s 36 states and union territories.
India tries to contain the outbreak . . .
The Indian Council of Medical Research has earmarked 52 medical facilities across the country for testing COVID-19 samples, while several states have ordered schools and colleges closed. The government has also announced travel restrictions and a suspension on new entry visas until April 15, except for diplomatic visas and individuals working for international organizations such as the United Nations. Movement of people and vehicles across the border with Bangladesh has been suspended, while the border with Nepal remains under strict surveillance. Leveraging widespread mobile phone networks, the health ministry is disseminating awareness messages on hand washing and how to prevent the spread of the virus, as well as providing a helpline number to the public, especially in rural areas.
Vulnerabilities in India’s health-care system . . .
The challenges of a health-care system that services 1.3 billion people to withstand a global pandemic is a major concern for India’s public health sector. Currently, only government laboratories are authorized to test for COVID-19. With the surge in the number of reported cases and the likely rapid increase in infections, India will need more hospital beds than it currently has. According to public health researchers, vigorous surveillance and strengthening of laboratory capacity will be the key steps to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the world’s most populous democracy.