Worst Yet To Come

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Virus is spreading in the rural parts of the country

LAST Saturday India conducted over 10.5 lakh tests to detect COVID-19 cases, setting a new record for itself. Since testing began the samples of over 4.14 crore Indians have been examined, of whom 36.21 lakh were found to be infected. There are 1,583 laboratories across the nation which have been conducting tests. The scaling up of the country’s testing capacity has resulted in an upsurge in COVID cases being detected. The national positivity rate of COVID-19 stood at 8.57 percent. As per the data released by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, India’s daily tests per million at 545 is far above the World Health Organisation advice of 140 tests. The Goa government has something to cheer about as the ministry has said that Goa was conducting the highest tests per day per 10 lakh people with 1,584 people being tested. Goa is followed by Andhra Pradesh and Delhi.

As India was not adequately equipped to meet the COVID spread, the central government took time to study the best practices adopted by other nations in dealing with the pandemic and adopt a “test, track and treat” strategy in coordination with the states and Union territories for scaling up testing. Though India has improved its testing and is doing more than the optimum recommended by the WHO, the number of tests conducted by India is lesser than that done by the United States, which does 2,310 tests per day per million. India’s number of tests is much smaller than that of the United Arab Emirates, which conducts 7,070 tests per million.

As expected, the more India scales up testing, the more the number of COVID-19 cases detected will be. For most of the month of August India reported the highest number of coronavirus positive cases in the world. Over five lakh COVID-19 cases were reported in last week alone. The numbers could increase exponentially if bigger states such as UP, Bihar and MP increase testing capacities. Of course, the rise in the number has been not only owing to the increase in testing capacity but also due to non-adherence by people to the guidelines and the lack of strict enforcement of the guidelines by the authorities.

Health experts say India is emerging as the world’s new coronavirus epicentre. With the second highest number of cases the country is projected to overtake Brazil  in a week from now. India might overtake the US in two months. India overtook Mexico with the third highest number of COVID-related deaths at 64,469 on Monday. The growth in the number of India’s cases is  accelerating seven months after the country reported its first case on January 30. According to the experts, the pathogen, after spreading in dense mega cities, has penetrated the vast rural hinterland where the bulk of India’s 130 crore people live. India would continue to report record numbers of cases in the days ahead before reaching a plateau.

According to Naman Shah, a faculty member at India’s National Institute of Epidemiology,  India being the world’s second most populated country with a relatively poor public health system, it was inevitable that the country’s coronavirus outbreak could become the world’s biggest. After imposing the longest ever lockdown India managed to delay coronavirus infections, but the nation has not been able to contain the transmission of the dreaded virus that has brought miseries all around. With the coronavirus continuing its march aggressively in the rural parts of the country, the authorities need to come out with newer strategies to deal with the emerging situation. They have to ensure that an increase in COVID-19 cases does not lead to imposition of more restrictions on people, who have borne the impact of prolonged lockdowns. The country should see even more tests being conducted in pursuit to detect those afflicted by the disease and treat them. With record coronavirus positive cases being detected on a daily basis, the authorities should devise strategies to deal with emergencies and comorbidities for those affected by the disease who might need institutional care. The authorities have to scale up institutional care together with testing to keep mortality under check.