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Top US Doctor Raises Alarm Over India Heading Towards Becoming A Global Coronavirus Hotspot

Dr Ashish K Jha, Director of Harvard Global Health Institute, says Coronavirus recovery rate is not a useful measure as most people are expected to recover from COVID-19

Top US Doctor Raises Alarm Over India Heading Towards Becoming A Global Coronavirus Hotspot
  • With 34,956 fresh COVID-19 cases, India crossed the 10-lakh mark on July 17
  • The number of COVID-19 deaths will increase in the near future: Dr Jha
  • People have to wear masks particularly in indoor public spaces: Dr Jha

New Delhi: “I suspect the number of cases will continue to increase and the big question for India and the United States, what are the interventions we are going to use to keep the virus levels manageable? Right now, as I am looking at India, I am getting very worried that a lot of cases are happening and people are starting to die from the disease”, says Dr Ashish K Jha, Director of Harvard Global Health Institute. The number of Novel Coronavirus cases in India is following an upward graph. With biggest one day jump of 34,956 fresh COVID-19 infections, on Friday (July 17), India crossed the 10-lakh mark. In just three days, India has moved from 9 lakh COVID-19 cases to 10 lakh cases.

In terms of COVID-19 numbers, India is the third worst-hit county in the world, preceded by Brazil and the United States. According to Dr Rajesh Khanna, Deputy Director of Health and Nutrition at Save The Children, the rise in COVID-19 cases can be attributed to an increase in testing, easing of restrictions, and laxity of the people.

Also Read: Coronavirus Explainer: 15 COVID-19 Related Terms And What These Mean

Union Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan has time and again lauded India’s improving recovery rate and response to the pandemic. He had said,

Despite being such a large country, we have not reached the community transmission stage of COVID-19. Though there are some small pockets where there could be slightly higher transmission locally.

The country is also seeing a continuous spike in the COVID-19 deaths; it recorded 687 deaths in the last 24 hours. The only silver lining, if there is, the recovery rate that has shot up from 52.8 per cent (June 17) to 63.3 per cent now. To understand the situation and the way forward, NDTV spoke to Dr Ashish K Jha, Director of Harvard Global Health Institute. Talking about whether improving recovery rate is a positive sign and something to rejoice, Dr Jha says,

Recovery rate to me is not a useful measure. We expect most people to recover from this disease. Globally, only about 1 per cent or less than 1 per cent die from this disease. I expect, in India, it might be even lower because of the younger population. But even a one per cent death rate or half a per cent death rate can be very devastating in terms of many hundreds of thousands of people dying of this disease. I expect, when this pandemic is over and we look at the recovery rate, eventually it will end up somewhere very close to 99 per cent. The real issue is how do we prevent cases and the number of deaths from getting too high? Right now, 400-500 are dying from coronavirus, every day. I expect the number will go up substantially in the days and weeks ahead.

In its fight against SARS-CoV-2, India has ramped up testing. From conducting over 70,000 tests on May 1 to doing over 3 lakh COVID-19 tests today, India has come a long way. In total, over 1.3 crore samples have been tested. Talking about the role of testing, Dr Jha says,

If you think about what are the major control mechanisms you have for the disease, one is social distancing the most extreme version of which is a lockdown, second is wearing a mask and the third is testing and tracing. These are the three main tools from keeping the virus from exploding and what India needs to do is employ some version of all three of them.

Also Read: Rise In COVID Cases A Cause Of Concern But Recovery Rate Gives Positivity: AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria

To ensure social distancing and contain the spread of the virus, India was under lockdown for over 60 days. Starting June 1, India went into ‘unlock’ mode but now, with the cases surging, lockdowns are being re-imposed in several parts of the country. For instance, Bengaluru has imposed a week-long lockdown; Odisha government has announced 14 days lockdown in high caseload districts and city; Uttar Pradesh has resorted to weekend lockdown. Talking about the role of lockdowns and the efficacy of re-lockdowns, Dr Jha says,

Lockdowns work in terms of reducing the number of cases but, of course, they have such major economic effects that you can’t continue with them. Lockdowns are meant to buy you time to do something else. I don’t know what the utility of weekend lockdown is. It really has not been tried in any other country in the world. If you use a short term lockdown like that, the question is, what do you do during that time? If all you do is slow down the disease a little bit but when you open back, cases will pick up again then it’s not a very useful strategy.

Also Read: Precautions To Take Till Airborne Transmission Of COVID-19 Is Further Researched And WHO Assesses The ‘Emerging Evidence’

Dr Jha very categorically stated that he’s worried about India becoming a Coronavirus hotspot and may even touch as many as one lakh cases a day. Currently, India is seeing a daily growth of 25,000 to 35,000 fresh cases. To ensure, India manages to control the spread, Dr Jha suggests a few strategies which include social distancing and wearing a mask. He elaborates,

I do think people have to be wearing masks when they are outdoors and particularly in indoor public spaces like stores or any kind of gathering.

Dr Jha also noted that the outbreak of Coronavirus has been seen in indoor dining because there people sit without a mask, they eat and talk. And such kind of outbreak should make us reconsider our decisions like should we even have indoor dining. He says,

Maybe we need to stop all indoor public dining until we are at a point where the virus is really under control. And then we have to keep going on testing, get rid of any large gatherings. If we can do all of that, there is a pretty good chance that India can avoid becoming a global hotspot but as I look at the numbers, I have to say, I am worried that India is heading that way.

Also Read: Airborne Transmission Of Novel Coronavirus Can Occur In Healthcare Settings: World Health Organisation

NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene


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