As expected, the arrival of the migrants to Uttarakhand from ‘red zones’ has led to a rapid rise in the number of COVID-19 positive cases. The challenge now is to ensure that the coming of the infection in this way does not result in its transmission to local populations. Already, the unpreparedness of the government and administration to deal with this onslaught is visible. Many potential patients are making it past the screening process, while the quarantine facilities are neither adequate, nor up to the mark in terms of facilities. The limited increase in hospital facilities and testing will also become overwhelmed should even a small number of people require intensive treatment.
All of this, of course, can be considerably controlled if the ordinary people adhere to the simple precautions necessary. This is particularly so in the case of those likely to be in near contact with the returning migrants. This requires increased awareness among the village folk, particularly in the more remote areas. The advantage in the rural areas is that there is enough space to arrange quarantine, such as in nearby groves and presently empty schools, etc. Already, excellent examples of this are being seen in some places, which are worthy of emulation.
Also, going by the nationwide figures, it seems India is heading for a bump in the coming days. The hoped for flattening of the curve has not yet taken place. Fortunately, though, the lockdown and other measures have ensured that enough time has been bought for preparation. There is also the opportunity to learn from the experience of other nations more badly hit, particularly the developed ones. Isolation, prevention, hospital and treatment protocols can be replicated where these have proven successful. India’s Health Minister Harsh Vardhan being elected the Chairman of the WHO Executive Board will provide better access to such information and should, hopefully, result in effective action.
At the same time, though, when it comes to emerging from the lockdown, there are no precedents to follow and all nations will have to do the best they can in their particular circumstances. There are many comparisons being made these days with past epidemics, but it is a fact that owing to technology and unprecedented connectivity, the world has never been better prepared to face such a challenge. What is required is that this potential be transformed into effective action through high quality leadership at every level.