New Delhi: The impact of the coronavirus outbreak in India will be “much smaller and manageable” as the big decision of nationwide lockdown and travel restrictions were put in place much before other countries, a Niti Aayog member said on Wednesday. While asserting that the country is well-prepared, V K Paul, who is also heading a panel to coordinate efforts to tackle the outbreak, noted that it would be difficult to say when the situation would stabilise since that would depend on various factors, including the effectiveness of the overall response.
The number of coronavirus positive cases in the country increased to 1,637 on Wednesday and has claimed 38 lives. The count of active COVID-19 cases stands at 1,466 while 132 people have either been cured or discharged and one had migrated to another country, as per the Union Health Ministry.
Striking a note of caution, Mr. Paul said that in a worst case scenario, the outbreak could be very devastating to population in any part of the country. He said,
India has taken measures (to contain the spread of coronovirus) much before other countries, whether it is travel restriction or the call for social distancing. And India has taken such a big decision of lockdown which others have not done for a long, and they missed the appropriate time. Therefore, I believe that the size of our outbreak will be much much smaller and manageable.
The country is under a 21-day lockdown as part of larger efforts to curb spreading of coronavirus infections. The lockdown has made a very remarkable difference because the virus transmission chain would be nearly broken and the progression of the outbreak would be contained in a very significant way.
Thousands of people have died due to coronavirus infection in different parts of the world. Italy, Spain and Iran are among the countries that have recorded high number of deaths so far. On fears that large scale movements of migrant workers from cities to their native places could result in spreading of coronavirus infections, Mr. Paul said such movements would not make a difference in terms of the benefits expected from the lockdown.
Following the lockdown, which has also impacted their daily incomes, thousands of migrant workers have been trying to go back to their native places. Various state governments have taken steps to stop such movements and ensure that basic needs of such people are fulfilled. He asserted,
A few lakh migrant workers moving from one place to the other is nothing compare to what was happening on a daily basis where crores of people were going back and forth in the country. We have to address the human issue but this degree of population exchange should not make a difference to the benefits we are expecting from the lockdown.
Citing an example, Mr. Paul noted that on a daily basis more than one crore people were travelling in trains and almost 4-5 crore people in buses. This was the situation before the lockdown and now, such movements have stopped. He emphasised,
There is a trickle, it is not ideal but very minuscule problem in terms of epidemiological gain. But yes, human issue should be addressed.
According to him, the outbreak in a worst scenario could be very devastating to population in any part of the country. “We are well prepared so far and ready for all scenarios… We will ensure that there is minimum possible human cost and minimum cost to our nation’s economy,” he noted. The response was to a query on whether community transmission of the infection is happening in the country.
The group headed by Mr. Paul is one of the 11 empowered groups of officers constituted by Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla for planning and ensuring implementation of COVID-19 response activities. On when the situation is likely to stabilise, Mr.Paul said it would depend on a lot of factors. He said,
Of all, it depends on how effective our lockdown intiatives are, how effective our social distancing measures are and how effectively we are able to contain our clusters as well as our hotspots. “It depends on how effectively we are responding to this outbreak.
Mr. Paul said the government is working to increase the availability of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to doctors. “Very soon, there will be no issue of inadequacy. Even now, compared to what we need, we have more PPE available in our system,” he added. Appreciating the efforts of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) for COVID-19 testing, he said the institute’s guidelines have so far stood the test of time.