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Coronavirus Situation: Mumbai, India

Coronavirus Situation: Mumbai, India

April 2020 · 11 min read · Maharashtra

What is Coronavirus?

Well, by now, the world knows about Coronavirus and its deadly effect on people’s life. COVID-19 is the specific virus that we are talking about over here, and it belongs to the same family of viruses as those witnessed during SARS. That’s about where the similarity ends.

The COVID-19’s symptoms are quite different from SARS, and if left untreated, may result in death. Although the global figures right now show a fatality rate of nearly 25%, analysts believe that the percentage may be much more than that.

So, how is the situation in India?

COVID-19 Situation in India

The first reported case in India was in Kerala, a South Indian State. For a long time, there were no cases reported outside of Kerala. The three reported cases were students returning from Wuhan, China. By now the world knows that the epicentre of coronavirus is Wuhan as communicated and shared by China.

Though the first case was reported by the end of January, there was nothing much done in terms of quarantine or prevention. Other than China, no other country witnessed the cases first hand. As such there was lack of information as much as scepticism in taking the coronavirus seriously.

The situation started changing as news of Italy, Spain, Iran, US and a dozen more countries began to trickle in. Interestingly, the proper measure that India did take was quarantining those students from Kerala. The students began recovering and therefore, India let its guard down on COVID-19. Not only the students, India, through its diplomatic channels, got back stranded Indians from China and Iran, the hotbed of the virus, back then. Even those Indians were quarantined and were found to be healthy. All this contrasting news added to the system becoming a trifle casual about the spread.

Then What Changed?

Near the third week of February, news of new cases emerging in Karnataka, another South Indian state, followed by Delhi, India’s capital, set the system to take some serious note. The good thing was that India learned fast.

Around the same time the UN declared the COVID-19 scenario as a pandemic owing to the growing number of countries getting added to the list. By this time, news of Italy’s fatal and virulent spread was in the news. A good number of urban Indians started taking precautions by avoiding travel and going out with masks. However, the news had not hit the rural population as much.

Further, the government was yet to take stern action. But with new cases being reported in Pune, Bengaluru, Delhi (all hotbeds of Indian IT industry) states went ahead and started voluntarily implementing social distancing. It was not until 22nd March, Sunday, did the first of the action come to view.

The Prime Minister urged the country to go in for a voluntary curfew which was termed as “Junta (citizen) Curfew.” People responded well by staying home for 14 hours of the curfew time - from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., the country locked down. However, at 5 p.m., there were sounds of claps and clanging of vessels heard as people cheered for the medical caregivers and other professionals at the forefront of the virus battle. Here is one of the many videos from India.

But one could not miss that people still did not understand social distancing as much. There are many more videos where people came out at that time to celebrate together (which should have been avoided) while hailing the medical workers.

Thereafter, the government followed by ordering lockdown in those major districts where the cases had spread. But just a couple of days later, a 21-day lockdown order was extended to the whole of the country.

Locking down a country of 1.3 billion is not an easy task. As a comparison, China, the only other populous country, witnessed a much smaller lockdown in terms of proportion. From there, the fight against the pandemic truly started.

So, how is the Situation Now?

As of 1st April 2020, the lockdown continues, and there are essential supplies still available so that public crowding and panic could be avoided. This makes the lockdown a bit porous as people continue to go out for groceries and essentials shopping. The only good part is that there is no crowding. The government went ahead and made the supplies available 24*7 which means people can go out for groceries even in the night, and therefore, avoid social gathering or crowding. The aspect of social distancing is gaining momentum, and people keep a meter distance between themselves.

Essential supplies are limited to items like groceries, medical supplies, milk and other similar items. Nothing else is allowed. Not even fuel for vehicles unless it is of the coronavirus prevention task force. The list of not-allowed includes eateries and hotels. However, home-cooked food does continue at places to make food for the economically unsound section of society. That, again, with enough precautions.

Let’s Get to the Numbers

Well, at the moment the recorded number stands at 1,637 confirmed cases out of which 133 have recovered, and 38 fatalities have been reported. While the numbers are those confirmed by public testing facilities run by the government, private testing facilities have now started to pitch in and help. The positive cases can be expected to increase over the next few days.

Here is the spread of coronavirus in India as depicted on Wikipedia as of 1st April 2020.

The imageis thanks to Night Lantern – basis data from The Times of India (leading Indian daily) and NDTV (leading Indian news channel).

As you can see, my home state, Maharashtra, is one of the most affected and Mumbai is at the forefront of the spread. The spread in metropolitans like Mumbai and Delhi are expected as more of international travellers arrive at that port, as much as citizens from those metropolitans would have travelled outside. In two cases, one in Delhi and one in Jaipur, a city in Rajasthan, the spread was traced back to Italian travellers. Of course, it was supposed to be a vacation for the Italian tourists which turned unsavoury.

What are the Actions Taken?

Government has taken the falling action to stem the spread of the virulent cases.

1. Twenty-one-day lockdown across India which we already discussed

2. No international flights allowed in India, especially from extremely affected countries. Initially, it included Iran, China (as China locked itself down), and Italy. But now it extends to the entire Middle East, Africa and most European countries. The shut down of International flights is not full but some travel to certain destinations are still allowed.

3. Travel from cautionary destinations to India requires the incoming travellers to be in quarantined for fourteen days in India (whichever port of arrival)

4. Free movement of medical professionals, armed forces, local police and officials with orders from the government

5. Availability of groceries round-the-clock so that people can stock essentials, as required, and don’t face a situation of hoarding

6. Migrant daily-wage labourers to be provided for by the State governments, so that no one is left dying due to non-availability of food

7. Prime Minister’s video conference and discussions with States for next steps (more on this, later)

8. Alternate quarantining facilities being created for positive cases across the country

These steps are in-line to avoid social contact and prevent carriers from outside the country to enter India.

What is India Doing at the Regional and Global Level?

One would have thought that China would take a leadership role in showing the world how to cope with the pandemic, but it was not to be. In fact, they claim that they have medications, but nothing shared with the world yet. That said, that’s no reason to hold ourselves back.

India took the fight to the pandemic beyond its boundaries. The first of those actions were having a call with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries. It was a video conference which was attended by all the member countries. India then proposed a G20 call too. This was welcomed by most countries and now on those lines, a G7 call is also planned.

Here is a look at the news about the video-conference:

A good initiative and a proud moment for the Indian attempt. Let’s see how things move from here.

What other Initiatives are in place?

Well, learning from countries already affected, some things were clear. One – should there be a breakout, there wouldn’t be enough time or resources to handle the spread, and two – best is to stop the spread from reaching phase-3. Phase-3 refers to the community spread where the virus then easily transmits from people to people and would be difficult to contain.

So, here were some initiatives that were set in place.

1. Train Coaches as Isolation Ward

At this time of need, it was necessary to put all available resources in place. Since there are travel restrictions, nobody would be using trains. So, a novel idea that came forth to counter the novel coronavirus was to use the railway coaches as isolation wards. You can read more about it here.

Railway coaches as isolation wards.

By the way, this news article was covered in Gulf news. The world community was noticing.

2.  AYUSH way of Combating COVID-19

Now, once the infrastructure was in place, it made no sense to wait for medications to be discovered instead find answers ourselves. Not many know this, but India has AYUSH ideology and a dedicated AYUSH Minister at the centre. What is AYUSH? AYUSH stands for Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy. This is an alternate way of finding solutions to COVID-19 while the Allopathic stream of medicines continues with the research.

Here is another video conference between PM Modi and the practitioners of AYUSH.

Now, we won't know yet if we will find a solution with AYUSH, but then with 190 countries trying to find answers in the Allopathy stream, it only made sense to look elsewhere too. That's another leadership in India's approach.

3. Private Companies Pitching In

While the government is all out to fight the pandemic, the country is in a catch-22 situation. On one end, the government needs income in the form of taxes, yet on the other end, the country has to be locked down and hence no income. So, where do we get the budget for such a large exercise to tackle COVID-19? The answer is existing resources (income already realized) and support of general public and private companies for funds.

The PM CARES fund is one such corpus that is expecting the largesse of citizens to contribute monetarily to tackle coronavirus. The country has responded well to this initiative. Celebrities, corporate leaders and the general public have all contributed.

Here is an article covering the list of celebrities who contributed to the PM Cares Fund.

Celebrity Contributions.

Of course, there are many more who have not shared their contributions in the public domain or social sites like Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

And here's news of corporate leaders who have contributed to the Fund.

Corporates' Contribution.

Both the lists were covered in Economic Times, one of the reputed economic dailies, of India.

4. Automobile Manufacturers Using Production Line for Producing Ventilators

Well, should India enter phase-3 of the spread then it is a known fact that the country will be short on ventilators. That has prompted the government to seek India’s own vehicle manufacturing community to produce the ventilators. Of course, many provided their help voluntarily. Here is an article on India Today which covers this news.

Not only will India be able to produce about Ten thousand ventilators per month, it would also cost about INR 7,500. That is less than 100 USD. How cool is that?

India vehicle manufacturers lead the way!

Flip Side to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Well, all is not so bad because of the coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown. There were few beneficiaries too. Who were the beneficiaries, you ask? Well, the flora, fauna and the environment.

The air quality is improving, and as cities have gone silent and stopped polluting, plants and animals are finding their way back. Interestingly, even without COVID-19, India had one of the largest cases of respiratory diseases. Now, the air has cleared just in a matter of a couple of weeks. One virus that attacks the respiratory system helps clear the air! Irony!

Here is a piece of news covered by CNN on the air quality levels.

And, of course, animals making their way back into the human bastion with humans locked up.

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Finally, dolphins making their way back to the Mumbai coast.

So, what next?

Well, the fight is far from over. Next few weeks are crucial for India and the world. India has got itself prepared and now it is to be seen how things progress from here.

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Either way, all will be well and we will soon meet on the other side!

Namaste! 😊

Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

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