After infecting tens of thousands of people in over 60 countries across the world, Coronavirus (Covid-19) has entered India. As of Thursday, 5th March, 30 cases of Coronavirus have been confirmed – one person from Delhi, six of his relatives in Agra, 16 Italians and their Indian driver, one in Telangana, one in Ghaziabad and three previous cases in Kerala.
Covid-19 first originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. This mysterious disease could show symptoms like common cold, fever or shortness of breath and lead to pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
According to reports, Coronavirus has affected more than 89,000 people in over 60 countries and killed more than 3,000 people in around 8 countries. Most of these cases (80,151 infected and 2,943 dead) are from mainland China, the epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak, as reported by Reuters.
With the number of cases rising in India, the focus has now shifted to the country’s capability to fight this global outbreak. India has several challenges to face – apart from its size, India has high population density: 420 people live on each square kilometer compared with 148 per square kilometer in China.
In addition, like China, India has a high rate of internal migration. In the 2011 census, 450 million people moved from one area to another in search of opportunity. This makes it a challenge to restrict the outbreak to one locality, as China has attempted to do by locking down the entire state of Hubei.
Further, the country’s healthcare spending is among the lowest in the world – just 3.7% of gross domestic product. This has also resulted in quality healthcare being inaccessible and unaffordable for most people.
Coronavirus in India
Fear has spiked in India after a rise in the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases to 30 across the country with several thousands under watch. As a precautionary measure, some private schools are shut in Noida for the remainder of this week and all Delhi schools till standard 5 are closed uptil 31st March. Many companies are asking their staff to work out of their respective homes.
Sanjay Bhutani, Country Manager, Bausch & Lomb India, told The Blue Circle, “There are two traits in COVID 19 which make it more virulent than its predecessors like SARS. One is the ability of its carrier to infect 2-3 persons easily and the other is its ability to transmit even through carriers who are themselves asymptomatic. Therefore the disease screening and isolation protocols need to be more perceptive and thorough.
The government should simultaneously ensure Large scale awareness generation through dissemination of validated safety precautions, stringent imposition of Disease screening, quarantine, testing and treatment protocols especially at Airports & Sea ports, maintenance of uninterrupted supply of medical devices and medicines.”
He further shared, “Minister Piyush Goyal has already called for a meeting to discuss the Global disruptions in Supply chains and their impact on India. Other ministries could emulate such proactiveness.
Further, there should be assessment of outbreak preparedness through scenario development, and lastly, vaccine manufacturers should be encouraged to expedite all steps from Discovery to phase 3 clinical trials, and large scale commercialisation. It will be great if India finds the antidote. Lastly, so that none of these initiatives gets caught in inter-ministerial turf issues, PMO should periodically oversee preparedness.”
Impact on industry
Last week, Moody’s forecast the virus to slump Asia’s growth rates. The impact will be seen primarily in trade and tourism & through supply-chain disruptions. India’s growth slowed to a near seven-year low of 4.7% in October-December 2019 on continued slump in manufacturing, and now faces the next big challenge of coronavirus outbreak crippling growth further.
Amid fresh cases of Coronavirus in Delhi, the Prime Minister cancelled Holi Milan celebrations. Reputed tech companies like Xiaomi and Realme called off their respective phone-launch events in New Delhi. The travel and airline sectors are also facing a crisis as international summer holiday bookings on popular travel sites have dipped by at least 22 per cent.
The automobile sector is equally hit. Several car makers have had to cut down on production due to shortage of automobile parts coming from China.
Prabal Chakraborty, Healthcare Advisor and former MD, Boston Scientific India, told TBC, “Coronavirus is a complex challenge in front of humanity today. It doesn’t respect geographical boundaries and could be devastating in a globalised world. Complexities are best handled through Acceptance of Facts and Collaboration. India needs to take an integrated systemic approach involving all states, public and private sector stakeholders to deal with Covid – 19.”
Indian pharma industry under watch
The Department of Pharmaceuticals is assessing the availability of drugs in the country due to the increase in cases of coronavirus infection.
Indian pharma companies import raw materials like key starting materials (KSMs), intermediates and bulk drugs worth USD 4.5 billion from China. They formulate them into finished dosages before exporting them to other countries. According to the Trade Promotion Council of India, approximately 85% of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) imported by Indian companies are from China.
A report by the department revealed that the existing stock of APIs will be sufficient to manufacture drugs for two to three months.Various government organisations including the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority and Drugs Controller General of India have been instructed to ensure adequate supply of APIs and check black-marketing or illegal hoarding. The organisations have also been asked to monitor the availability of APIs.
There is some positive news on the vaccine front. Serum Institute of India has announced that its new Covid-19 vaccine is being developed in collaboration with US-based Codagenix. It is now in pre-clinical / animal testing phase, and the data will be available by the end of August, with these results submitted to regulatory authorities.
The vaccine candidate is expected to enter human clinical trials in the coming six months and be market-ready by early 2022.
Government on war footing to tackle Coronavirus
The Centre has stepped up efforts.
Thermal screening of passengers at airports and other ports of entry has been increased. According to a Ministry of Health statement, all international passengers arriving must undergo medical screening while entering India.
Provision of laboratories
All the Indian laboratories have been prepared for Coronavirus. The Indian Council of Medical Research has prepared at least 12 laboratories and centres across the country that are fully-equipped to test for the virus.
The labs are equipped with reagents to test up to 25,000 samples. The government noted that 19 more labs will be operational soon to test samples. The National Institute of Virology in Pune will verify and reconfirm all the tests.
The government has issued a revised list of travel advisories warning Indian citizens not to travel to China, Iran, South Korea and Italy, which are among countries worst hit by the coronavirus outbreak. In addition, all the visas granted to nationals of Italy, Iran, South Korea and Japan, on or before 3 March, have been suspended with immediate effect.
Restriction on export of medicine
The Directorate General of Foreign Trade placed restrictions on the export of several essential medicines. According to a Business Today report, the medicines on the restricted list include Paracetamol, Neomycin, Acyclovir, Tinidazole, Metronidazole, Ornidazole, Vitamin B12, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B1, Progesterone, Clindamycin Salts, Erythromycin Salts, Chloramphenicol, and its Formulations.
Disinfection of aircrafts
The Civil Aviation Ministry has made it mandatory for all aircrafts from South Korea, Japan, Italy to be disinfected on arrival. Even the buses used to transport people to the terminal must also be properly sanitised.
Navneet Bali, Director Northern Region – Narayana Health, shared with TBC, “The combined concerted effort by all concerned is the need of the hour. Efforts should be made to help in cluster contamination strategy to break the chain of transmission.
Early identification and contact history would be crucial in this fight. Also critical would be not to allow any panic reaction but a scientific plan to contain this virus.”
While the spread of Coronavirus has instilled fear across India, the country has the weather advantage. Coronaviruses of all kinds tend to travel better in cooler, drier climates and with the subcontinent’s summer approaching, the scorching heat may end up snuffing out the virus. With precautions in place by the government, the situation is likely to come under control soon, but it’s all wait and watch.