Prof. Alok Pandey
Institute of Management Studies, Ghaziabad
The over hyped and over rated Covid-19 also known as SARS-COV-2 has made many of us highly anxious, despite the fact that the disease has only around 2% mortality rate and close to 60% recovery rate. The recovery rate in Delhi state is almost 90%. Recent research suggests that up to 95% of the corona virus positive but asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic patients do not require any hospitalization and recover on their own after an adequate period of home quarantine or isolation only.
Due to overreaction several such asymptomatic patients were put in hospital across India causing severe shortage of beds for the seriously ill patients who needed quick hospitalization and probably intensive care. Moreover, hospitals began avoiding women on maternity and patients with other serious illnesses due to perceived contagiousness of the disease and caused some serious collateral damage in return. Many died awaiting treatment.
What should we do now?
First, we must move from our over reactive state to a proactive state. Every action, needs to be a result of thorough analysis and research. Funding for research on contagious diseases should be increased manifolds. Whenever there is an official press conference at the topmost level, the Health Minister or the officials must be accompanied by Director-AIIMS, Director-NCDC andDG- ICMR to send a message to all citizens that all our decisions are backed by experts. No need for countrywide lockdowns at all. On a hindsight, experts say only one lockdown of 21 days was enough as a warning. The successive lockdowns, proved to be a remedy worse than the disease, causing widespread pain, economic contraction, mass-scale migration, deaths on roads and railway tracks, and suicides due to depression. We should also rampup dilapidated primary and secondary health care systems,across country, and ensure availability of tertiary care at all district headquarters.
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Second, we must move from a pharmacokinetic focus to herd immunity-based approach. This virus like several others will decide its own timeline. Viruses often mutate, rendering vaccination and current pharmaceutical response less effective over time. The solution lies in opening up immediately. The countrywide un-lockdown is a step in the right direction and is helping us learning to live with the virus. Let the young and healthy confront the parasite and help us bring about a herd immunity across the nation. To do this, it is essential to open schools and colleges quickly. Research suggests, that lockdowns have brought with it, depression and amplification of existing mental illnesses in young as they were deprived of much needed physical social interactions. So, herd immunity will bring with itself both physical and mental wellness. Colleges and schools however must prepare their infrastructure and be ready for staggered classes, hybrid teaching- learning approaches, and sanitization of campuses on a regular basis. They must also provide masks, sanitizers, isolation rooms, Covid-19 help desk, contactless temperature meters and a physician who is permanently available on the campus. Opening up of schools and colleges will help demystify the disease and reduce anxiety about it in general public. Educational institutions not only serve the purpose of knowledge creation but also help in bringing about behavioural changes in all aspects of life. Universities, Collegesand Schools shall work towards spreading awareness about the parasite, the disease in its pandemic form, and the precautions to be undertaken by hosts, in a manner similar to all other literacy programmes. Awareness about the disease would help us open up public transport across the country quickly with adequate precautions in place.
Covid-19 has magnified inequalities in our country.It has brought to focus economic inequalities, digital divide and unequal access to healthcare & education in both urban and rural India. The third and most important solution for stopping Covid-19, or for that matter any pandemic, in future, in its tracks, will be to immediately design and implement policies for not only a self-reliant India (Aatma-Nirbhar Bharat), but also an equal India (Samaanata-Poorna Bharat) with equal access to employment, healthcare and educational opportunities for all. This pandemic has proved that around the world it is the poor, unaware, and those without access to healthcare, who perished first, and in largest numbers.