- India took 64 days to have over 1 lakh cases of Novel Coronavirus
- In India, doubling time for COVID-19 cases is longer: Dr David
- Pleased to see India’s death rate due to COVID-19 between 2 to 4%: Dr David
New Delhi: On the night of March 24, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown, the idea was simply to contain the spread of the highly contagious disease COVID-19 caused by the SARS-CoV-2. India has been in lockdown for over 55 days and the number of COVID-19 cases is still increasing. In fact, on May 15, with a total of 84,712 cases, India surpassed China’s tally of 84,029. Going forward, on May 19, India’s COVID-19 count breached the one lakh mark. The continuous rise in cases raises a question of whether lockdown which has brought everyone’s life to a standstill and left underprivileged suffering has worked or failed.
NDTV spoke to Dr David Nabarro, World Health Organisation’s Special Envoy on COVID-19 to understand how well India has fared so far in dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic. Talking about the impact of the lockdown In containing the spread of the Novel Coronavirus, Dr Nabarro said,
This virus spreads really rapidly and it does go quickly into new populations if the movement is not prevented so the government imposed an early lockdown, trying to prevent the virus from arriving in parts of the country that so far have not encountered it. What I am seeing is two things, firstly, the rate at which the virus is spreading seems to be slowing; the doubling time for cases is quite longer than it normally would be. Secondly, the viruses are confined in a number in clearly defined areas pretty much in the urban population, for example, Mumbai, Gujarat, New Delhi, Chennai and other similar locations. That’s a good sign.
Noting that in a densely populated area, it’s hard to reduce the transmission through case finding, contact tracing and isolation, Dr Nabarro said that as a country, India needs to keep up with its efforts to contain the virus and prevent its spread to other places.
Though the cases in the country have crossed the one lakh mark, but when compared to other countries like United States, Germany, Italy, and others, India took longer that is 64 days to move from 100 COVID-19 cases to one lakh cases.
While in the US, coronavirus infection cases increased from 100 to 1,00,000 in 25 days, it took 30 days for the cases to reach the 1 lakh mark in Spain. Similarly, Germany took 35 days, Italy (36), France (39) and United Kingdom (42) to cross the one lakh mark.
Talking about this data and India’s low testing rate when compared to other countries, Dr Nabarro said,
The testing rate may be lower than the other countries but there is a very important statistic and that is the percentage of positive tests that are being found. In India, it has been about 4 to 6 per cent in most locations and that is good because it means that although you are not testing as much as other countries are, you are still testing in a way keeping a very good eye on where the virus is. Secondly, this doubling time and numbers, where you go from 100 to a higher number, is slower in India than the US and UK – another very good sign.
Reiterating his message to continue with the efforts to prevent the virus from transmitting, Dr Nabarro said the rise in the number of COVID-19 cases should not be a matter of worry; the evidences prove that in densely populated urban areas, it’s particularly difficult to surpass outbreaks.
You should simply be saying, you are showing the world how to do with COVID when it is in tight and dense settlement areas, added Dr Nabarro.
Further talking about whether or not India should test more, Dr Nabarro appreciated the country for expanding COVID-19 testing at a faster rate. He also noted that the more people a country tests, the more it’s able to know where the virus is and stay ahead of it. But, the COVID-19 test is not easy and requires highly specialised labs and trained technicians. Elaborating on the same, Dr Nabarro said,
This is not an easy test to do. You need to have a sophisticated laboratory with a lot of very well controlled circumstances in terms of power, water, you need to have skilled technician to do work. Simply expanding testing to many more parts of the country and taking it into say rural areas with less and low quality support services is very difficult. The important thing is to test as widely as you can whilst at the same time maintaining good quality control on testing to minimise the number of false negatives in particular.
While talking about testing, Dr Nabarro suggested maintaining a balance between focusing on COVID-19 and other healthcare needs. He said that putting a lot of resources for testing of COVID-19 means taking away resources from other essential health services like tuberculosis (TB), mother and child health and others.
Further appreciating India on the contact tracing being done, Dr Nabarro added,
It’s not just about finding the people who have got the disease and isolating them. It’s also finding their contacts and isolating them; that’s the toughest part.
India not only took longer than other developed countries to have over one lakh COVID-19 cases, but also has a comparatively low fatality rate which is just over 3 per cent. Sharing his opinion on how important it’s to have low death rate, Dr Nabarro said,
I have seen some situations where the death rate is much higher maybe because testing is not done on a wide spread basis or it’s only being done on people with extreme symptoms or maybe because the healthcare facilities are just not able to respond to the need of people with COVID. I’m very pleased to see your death rate is hovering between 2 to 4 per cent. It’s a good sign. We must remember that COVID is a dangerous disease and should not be seen as a mild virus that we can take lightly. It does affect people of all ages, particularly older people, especially people with diabetes or cardiovascular disease like hypertension. So yes, you are doing well and one other thing which I can tell, that your infection rate among health workers is not as phenomenally high which means the protection of health workers from the virus is being practised to good effect.
Dr Nabarro very clearly stated that overall India is doing well but putting all the efforts on containing COVID-19 does take away health workers from other functions and the lockdown is having a terrible impact on people’s economic lives.
With the rise in the number of Corona cases across the world, the hope for a vaccine is also soaring high. US National Institutes of Health (NIH) scientists and collaborators at biotechnology company Moderna, which is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts are developing a vaccine called mRNA-1273. According to the information shared by the news agency Reuters, experimental COVID-19 vaccine has shown promising results. According to the US President Donald Trump, a vaccine against coronavirus will be available by the end of 2020.
Sharing his views on the development of a vaccine, Dr Nabarro said that developing a vaccine is not an easy task, especially for coronavirus. If something looks like a good vaccine, it needs to go through various stages of the trial to make sure it’s fit for widespread administration to people. He added,
Once you find that a vaccine works in animals and human volunteers, you have to go through a series of trials in human population to check. For instance, there are no side effects from the vaccine and also to check that it gives protection. Usually, that takes about a year perhaps even 18 months. Any prediction that we can go somewhere quicker than that means there is been some way found to speed up the trials. My only concern is that not every country will accept trials done rapidly because they want to do everything possible to make sure the vaccine is safe for their people. The one thing one doesn’t want is to have a vaccine with side effects that perhaps leads to people dying. That will result in people refusing to be vaccinated and that will not solve the problem.
Dr Nabarro very categorically stated that it will be really wrong if a vaccine could only go to certain populations based on wealth or nationality. And he would like to ensure that everybody, especially those who are most exposed, has access to the vaccine.