NEW DELHI: India could become the next global hotspot for virus cases, with experts warning containment measures that proved successful elsewhere in Asia may not work in the worlds second-most populous country.
The South Asian nation, which has so far reported 125 infections and three deaths, is trying to contain the virus by closing its borders, testing incoming travelers and contact tracing from those who tested positive.
But some experts in the nation of 1.3 billion people say that wont be enough to contain the spread. Other measures like widespread testing and social distancing may be infeasible in cities with a high population density and rickety health infrastructure.
While growth in total numbers has been slow until now, “the number will be 10 times higher” by April 15, said Dr. T. Jacob John, the former head of the Indian Council for Medical Researchs Centre for Advanced Research in Virology, a government-funded institution.
“They are not understanding that this is an avalanche,” said John, who was also chairman of the Indian Government Expert Advisory Group on Polio Eradication and chief of the National HIV/AIDS Reference Centre at the Christian Medical College in Vellore. “As every week passes, the avalanche is growing bigger and bigger.”
So far India has been relatively unscathed by the virus compared with other countries in Asia.
And Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said the South Asian nation is doing its best to fight the spread of the virus.
A key concern in India is Maharashtra, the state with the highest urbanization in India and home to the financial capital Mumbai and benchmark stock exchange. Its reported the biggest spread of the infection with 39 cases. Its government has called for a virtual lockdown of cities on Monday — shuttering all public places, putting off university exams and asking government offices and private companies to ensure at least half their staff work from home.
“Maharashtra is in the second stage at the moment,” Rajesh Tope, Maharashtras health minister told reporters in Mumbai. “But if we dont curtail or stop the infection from spreading this contagious disease we could slip to stage three and that would mean a spike in the number of infections,” he said. “We have to contain this disease under any circumstances.”
Apart from its sheer size, Indias other challenge is the density of its population: 420 people live on each square kilometer (about 0.4 of a square mile), compared with 148 per square kilometer in China. Its cities are crammed with slums and low-income housing clusters where the living conditions are tight.
While South Korea was able to test even asymptomatic people, Indias population “makes it extremely difficult,” said Dr. K. Srinath Reddy, adjunct professor of epidemiology at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University and president of the New Delhi-based health think-tank Public Health Foundation of India.
“Social distancing is something often talked about but only works well for the urban middle class,” he added. “It doesnt work well for the urban poor or the rural population where its extremely difficult both in terms of compactly packed houses, but also because many of them have to go to work in areas which are not necessarily suitable for social distancing.”
India on Tuesday announced that state-authorized private laboratories would be allowed to conduct tests. But the government has yet to release the list of authorized labs, according to Dr Lokesh Kumar Sharma, spokesman for the Indian CounciRead More – Source