India needs to ramp up preparations to stem COVID-19 assault

By Zhou Zijun Source:Global Times Published: 2020/3/31 15:11:38

Migrant laborers walk to their villages during the lockdown in New Delhi, India, on March 29. Photo: Xinhua

Many have noted that it's probably a matter of time before COVID-19 sweeps across India, despite its 21-day national lockdown. 

But such excessively pessimistic sentiment won't do any good to India's struggle against the virus, and proactive preparations, such as building makeshift hospitals and ramping up drug production will be far more helpful to the country, in case the worst-case scenario occurs.

Less than a week after the Indian government began its three-week national lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, a crisis of migrant workers crashing out of Indian cities triggered by the unprecedented lockdown, invited widespread criticism. 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday apologized to Indian people, particularly to the poor, for the "difficulties" caused by the harsh measure, and an Indian government official on Monday said that there are no plans to extend the 21-day lockdown. 

In addition, observers are warning that given the lack of personal protective equipment in the world's second most populous country, a spike in coronavirus infections looks imminent in India, and a public health disaster could be hard for India to tackle, in the light of the country's stretched healthcare system.

However, pessimism won't do the country any good either. Under India's climate and social conditions, a possible coronavirus outbreak may evolve there in a different pattern from what we have seen in other countries.

Although the nation is suspected of under-testing and under-reporting virus infections, India's purpose of testing runs different from that of other countries - particularly China's pattern of testing and quarantining. The purpose of testing in India is for diagnosis and treatment.

To effectively combat the virus, India should ramp up preparations, including seeking cooperation with China to erect makeshift hospitals and import emergency medical supplies. With its own successful experience bringing the virus under control, China has sufficient treatment knowledge and other medical supplies to assist India's fight against the disease. 

As medical treatment has proven effective in helping coronavirus patients, particularly for patients with mild symptoms, India as the world's largest drug producer should make use of its own drug industry to prepare for a potential spike in treatment needs. China's pharmaceuticals are returning to normal production now, and they are likely to increase ingredient supply to India.

The author is professor at the School of Public Health, Peking University.


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