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Nearly a million corona cases: What now?

At a time when India is on the threshold of crossing the one-million mark in Covid-19 cases, the third highest in the world, the numbers involved appear mind-boggling. But a country of 1.3 billion people should not be scared of numbers. The actual number of active cases in India is in the range of three lakh, while the number of cured/ discharged cases is nearing 6 lakh. The recovery rate is currently 63.24%, according to the government. Although the total number of deaths has breached the 24,000-mark, the mortality rate is around 17 per million. Compared to this, the mortality rate is around 416, 578 and 660 per million in the US, Italy and the UK, respectively. In fact, of the top six countries with the highest number of Covid cases, India, though it is third behind US and Brazil, has 688 cases per million people, compared to US' 10,571, Brazil's 9,117, Russia's 5,086, Peru's 10,391 and Chile's 16,721 cases. For UK and Italy, the numbers are well over 4,000. Even if India's numbers are said to be because of "low testing", the fact is, India has come a long way from testing a few hundred people every day in March to testing over 3.20 lakh on Tuesday. This is not a mean figure. But then these are just statistics and the numbers anyway vary from state to state.

The human cost of coronavirus can never be determined in terms of numbers and that is what the country should be worried about. The question is: where do we go from here? Lockdown has started making a reappearance in the highly affected states, as a shutdown is seen as the best way of controlling the spread. But lockdown as a measure to tackle the coronavirus cannot be a solution, even though this spike in cases is because of the opening up of the economy after a blanket shutdown. The economic cost is immeasurably high for lockdown to be a solution. Hence, adopting the "best practices" implemented by different states to micro-manage the spread of the infection can be a way forward, especially if these are showing results. This information needs to be collated at the national level and all states made to implement them after fine-tuning them to local conditions. For instance, it is being suggested that the states should concentrate on pre-emption by identifying and monitoring high-risk groups. Some states such as Uttar Pradesh have started collecting data on people with co-morbidity conditions by going door to door, so as to prepare the state's healthcare apparatus for a crisis situation. Health may be a state subject, but a containment strategy has to be national-and this containment strategy has to go beyond broad directives given until now about schools, colleges, movie halls, public transport, etc. Rigorous testing is the need of the hour, as well as contact tracing. Here, mention must be made of the Aarogya Setu app, which has now updated itself to monitor the persons one comes in contact with, and is thus "contact tracing" all its users, 24X7. States such as Bihar and Bengal, one of which is testing the lowest in the country and the other is alleged to be fudging statistics, must be made to mend their ways. But then governments can do things only up to a point. Without public realization of the gravity of the situation, India cannot win this fight against the virus. Rigorous social distancing, using face masks, maintaining personal hygiene, limiting public interaction should help keep the virus away. And until a cure or a vaccine is found, it's only rigorous self-discipline that can save the day for India and its people.

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