An Unbelievable Claim

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It is wrong to celebrate a victory over the virus when it is winning

In a statement many would find it hard to believe Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Thursday claimed that India had been able to contain the spread of coronavirus. He argued that half of the total number of COVID cases in the country were limited to just three states and another 32 percent to seven other states. Vardhan’s self-congratulation might not be found very assuring as the country has been recording cases in excess of 50,000. India recorded over 62,000 fresh COVID cases, an all-time high figure since coronavirus came to be detected in India on January 30 and surpassed the figure of 20 lakh cases on the day Vardhan claimed that the virus has been contained. How could the minister make such a claim when the coronavirus positive cases have been soaring in the country? Will presenting a rosy picture help the people in fighting the virus or make them complacent?

Vardhan’s claim that the strategy adopted to contain the spread of the coronavirus has been successful is belied by the evidence of the failure of it in several respects. To say that the lockdown by the Centre was effective in slowing down the rate of growth of cases and that it also gave the government time to augment the health infrastructure and testing facilities is to ignore the fact that the spikes have gone unchecked after the opening up. It is true that the number of laboratories has risen from one in January to 1,370 as of now and that COVID testing laboratories are accessible within three hours of travel time. However, health experts are of the opinion that despite the increase in the number of laboratories testing is inadequate and far from satisfactory. Besides, doubts have been raised over the use of rapid antigen testing and its efficacy for testing people for prevalence of coronavirus. According to experts, rapid antigen testing has been known to give large numbers of false negative reports, which are between 50 to 60 percent.

It is true that the coronavirus was contained in hotspots like Mumbai, Delhi and Pune during the lockdown as people were confined to their houses. However, allowing movement of people since May and their mass exodus from hotspots led to the virus being transmitted all over the country. Every state and Union Territory of the country, except perhaps for Lakshadweep, has reported COVID cases in large numbers. That a new high in the number of coronavirus positive cases is being recorded is an indication that the spread of the deadly virus continues unabated. Medical experts are of the opinion that the virus is being passed on by the people who have been afflicted by the virus but are asymptomatic. They insist that only vigorous mass testing and identification of carriers of virus and their isolation can help in containing the spread. Though India may have a high testing rate per million people as compared to other countries, it may not be adequate to deal with the threat posed by the highly contagious coronavirus.

Though the country has recorded a lesser number of COVID positive cases and deaths per million, given its gigantic population of 130-plus crore and lack of adequate health care facilities, the authorities should not consider it as their achievement. After the containment of the spread of the virus initially by imposing lockdown the flawed strategies of the central and state governments and the neglect of the safety guidelines by the people led to the spread of the virus. The inability of the health authorities to identify the carriers of the virus early also contributed to the virus spread. With the virus continuing to affect newer areas every day the authorities need to rework their strategies to arrest the rising graph. This is not the time to claim a victory over the pandemic. More than 40,000 people have lost their lives. Lakhs are in COVID hospitals. One of the biggest failures of the government strategy has been in overcoming the challenges of getting COVID patients with other serious illnesses cured. The country would have been happy to hear from the Union Health Minister how the government was fighting the challenge of mortality owing to comorbidities.