Amitabh Bachchan, India’s reel-life “Iron Man”, has tested positive for the coronavirus. With this, the realisation has hit home that the rich and hyper-privileged are no longer invulnerable and the pandemic is in full flow.
The number of fresh cases in the last 24 hours rose to 28,637, and the national tally, which took 109 days to breach the benchmark of one lakh cases, crossed eight lakhs on Saturday with a one-lakh jump over just four days.
Resource-strapped state governments have responded to the renewed crisis by locking back down particular districts and containment zones for weeks and/or weekends Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra among them.
Nonetheless, as amply demonstrated, a lockdown in itself is no solution unless it is accompanied by a clear strategy of combating the coronavirus that includes testing, contact tracing and ramping up of infrastructure.
These, as well as ground-level enforcement of the new lockdowns, are sadly missing.
However, even as the RBI governor made dire prognostications, the government cannot keep wavering between a lockdown and reopening and, in the face of this emergency, needs must privilege health over business.
Encouragingly, the Kerala story and more recently Delhi has shown that if there is political will, there is indeed a way to flatten the case curve. In Delhi, the ITBP is operating a 10,000-bed hospital to care for Covid-19 patients.
This is a welcome departure from the laughably empty gesture of showering flower petals on Covid-19 facilities that the Air Force had indulged in a few months back, and it is advised that the services of the Army Medical Corps and Military Nursing Service be deployed at vulnerable areas on a priority.
One of India’s other strengths in the war against coronavirus is its expertise in generic drug manufacturing.
The government must tap into its strengths and plug its weaknesses in terms of filling the gap in its testing infrastructure soon to be overwhelmed by the burgeoning cases.
It is no point hiding these cases.
Dissimulation, with the tacit support of the administration, and suppression of death count data as well as data on infections will prove detrimental sooner, not later.
Reports of bodies of Covid-19 patients being thrown together into trenches and being carried to the graveyard in autorickshaws have caused outrage among readers.
Policing should be stepped up at crematoriums and burial grounds and municipal and hospital records should be matched at regular intervals to put a curb on these practices.
The Union government is on the right track in promoting home quarantine for asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic patients, so as not to burden the already-swamped health infrastructure, now crumbling under the pressure of the pandemic. This is something we missed during the early days of the lockdown.
But since health is a state subject, the responsibility of implementing this policy correctly falls on state governments. Instead of fearing stigma on their parts, it is a good idea to involve gram panchayats and resident welfare associations in the process and put them in charge of monitoring the isolation, access to medicine and further testing of patients.
Telemedicine and health apps can be promoted to minimise doctor-patient contact, save valuable time and contain the virus spread. In Delhi, the pulse oximeter has proved to be the patient’s best friend, but its price has quadrupled under heavy demand.
Subsidising the device will go a long way in providing relief to patients. It is not a single big measure, but small, incremental steps, taken relentlessly with courage in our hearts, that will ultimately win the fight against the coronavirus.