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Lit for Life | India should have declared COVID-19 pandemic early, say experts

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At a discussion on ‘Lessons of the pandemic’, held on the second day of The Hindu Lit for Life 2021, experts spoke about the early, unprepared lockdown, the lack of availability of testing kits, the focus on tertiary instead of primary care and the poor understanding of the unorganised workforce in the country

What lessons have we collectively learnt from the pandemic? Could we have done better and saved more lives?

At a discussion on ‘Lessons of the pandemic’, held on the second day of the ongoing edition of The Hindu Lit for Life 2021, participants felt, that in hindsight, the country could have handled the pandemic better.

Delay in recognising the threat of SARS-CoV-2 virus spread by nearly three months, by which time many had been infected and deaths began to be reported in the country, the focus on tertiary care instead of strengthening urban primary health centres and no mention of home care, the lack of availability of testing kits and a poor understanding of the country’s unorganised sector workers, had led to more lives being lost, opined experts who participated in the discussion.

 

Gagandeep Kang, professor of Microbiology, and Laboratory Director, The Wellcome Trust Research Laboratory, Division of Gastrointestinal Sciences, Christian Medical College, Vellore, opined that the country had probably locked down without preparing for the goal of isolating the infected despite seeing cases with no history of travel or contact.

Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India also felt the country had locked down too early, and too extensively. The focus should have been on containing the virus spread when it was still an urban phenomenon. The World Health Organisation’s position, not recognising the aerosol spread until as late as April 2021 was also a reason [for the delayed handling], he said.

The need for masking and the prevention of super-spreader events as early as in February 2020, along with ramping up testing kits availability that would have resulted in extensive testing and contact tracing would have stemmed the spread of the virus, he said.

While the reports from China were alarming India, was in a relaxed mood, instead of recognising the war-like situation that was looming, said Arun Kumar, Malcolm Adiseshaiah Chair professor at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi.

The country should have declared the pandemic early so that the unorganised sector, which accounts for as much as 94% [of the workforce], was protected. “We could have started testing and tracing contacts more aggressively,” he said, adding that an estimated 200 million people went out of jobs during the lockdown. Unorganised sector workers depend on weekly wages and when they did not have the money to buy commodities, they opted to return home where at least food was assured.

Treatment strategies also had a role to play the doctors said. The focus on tertiary care treatment instead of primary and secondary healthcare, prioritising hospitalisation instead of home care and the choice of testing methods also impacted the way the pandemic evolved, Dr. Kang said.

Dr. Reddy said functional urban health care centres could have helped in early surveillance, detection and treatment and even vaccination acceptance.

The session was moderated by Kamini Mahadevan, former consultant editor of the Penguin group.

Lit for Life is being organised in association with Rajasthan Tourism; Realty partner: Casagrand; Banking partner: State Bank Of India; Insurance partner: Life Insurance Corporation of India; Knowledge partner : Hindustan Institute of Technology and Science and Bookstore partner: Higginbothams.



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