The 21-day nationwide lockdown is a necessary step, though belated, to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has already moved into the community transmission stage. The unfolding tragedies in the United States and Italy, where delayed response had deepened the crisis, must serve as a lesson for other nations. Despite having the best of healthcare infrastructure, these two developed countries dithered on putting in place social distancing measures, a laxity that is proving to be dangerous. By imposing total lockdown, India has done well in its efforts to break the chain of the virus spread. With high-density population, poor sanitation, rickety healthcare system and woefully inadequate hospital beds and other emergency equipment, India cannot risk the level of active coronavirus cases that Italy or Spain has today. Aggressive social distancing strategy is the best option before the country. Though a lockdown at this stage may not prevent the eventual spread of coronavirus to most of the population, it would at least defer the process, allowing us to spread the risk over a longer period and prepare ourselves better in terms of ramping up the healthcare infrastructure and equipment. The illusory small number of coronavirus positive cases and fatalities in India, due to low level of testing, should not lead to complacency. The country needs to be prepared for a rapidly mounting number of cases. The successes in South Korea and Singapore offer excellent examples of how pro-active surveillance, widespread testing, isolation, quarantine and rigorous tracking can prove effective in containing the outbreak.
Several scientific studies point to a much greater role played by asymptomatic carriers of the virus in the spread of the epidemic around the world. Hence, testing is the most important thing that any nation should be doing right now to identify coronavirus-infected patients in a timely manner in order to prevent secondary infections. Moreover, with higher contagiousness and infectivity even from asymptomatic carriers, the new coronavirus strain is much more deadly compared with the previous pathogens like SARS, MERS and H1N1. By invoking the provisions of the National Disaster Management Act (NDMA) in implementing the national lockdown, the Centre has demonstrated a sense of urgency in tackling the public health crisis. This marks the first time since the law came into being after the 2004 tsunami that the NDMA provisions have been invoked in the country. Sections 6 and 10 of the Act, under which the lockdown order was issued, give the NDMA powers to prepare national plans for disaster management and ensure their implementation through the State disaster management authorities in a uniform manner. The Act will ensure better coordination between the Centre and the States and create health infrastructure to cope with community spread.
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