Even as the number of new COVID-19 cases has not showed any signs of coming down despite the imposition of a national lock-down, the move has helped the healthcare sector in India to brace itself for any large-scale outbreak as is being seen in other countries, according to government’s empowered group on COVID-19.
Without this opportunity to get ready, the country’s healthcare system would have been overwhelmed by the explosion of Coronavirus cases across the country as was seen in other countries, said CK Mishra, chairman of center’s empowered committe on COVID-19.
Indeed, in countries like Italy, doctors were forced to take away oxygen masks from older patients — effectively leaving them to die — to offer them to younger patients as an uncontrolled surge in COVID-19 cases overwhelmed the hospital infrastructure.
Many patients in these counries were being treated in hospital corridors and even on the street due to the paucity of space.
However, India’s 41-day lock-down has given us time to prepare, said CK Mishra, who is also secretary to the government of India in the ministry of environment, forests and climate change.
“We’ve used this 30 days to make sure that in the event that we need to cater to higher numbers, we are ready,” he said.
Since the lock-down was imposed 30 days ago, he said, the government has arranged for an extra 1,52,000 isolation beds to treat COVID-19 patients. Before the lockdown, there were only around 42,000 beds.
Out of these 1.94 lakh isolation beds, only around 4,300 are in use currently.
Similarly, he said, India has increased the total number of COVID-19 hospitals to 736 from 163 a month ago.
If the lock-down was not imposed, he pointed out, the healthcare system in the country would have been overwhelmed, going by how fast the virus spread in other countries.
Mishra gave examples of testing data to illustrate how fast the virus spread in countries without lock-downs.
So far, he pointed out, India has found only 20,000 positive cases despite conducting 5 lakh tests. In countries which did not go for a lock-down in the early stages, this number was far far higher.
“The US had found 80k cases positive out of the first 5 lakh tests,” he pointed out. “Italy had found 1 lakh. UK found 120,000. Turkey had 80,000 positive.
“If we compare ourselves to the world, we seem to be doing well.”
He said the number of tests will be increased far more in coming days.
TO EARLY TO CALL THE PEAK
The panel of experts, however, would not say whether the lock-down will be able to bring down the number of new COVID-19 cases reported every day.
A properly implemented lock-down would, under all kinds of scientific modelling, be able to bring down the number of new Coronavirus cases reported daily from Day 21 onwards.
However, instead of coming down, the number of new Coronavirus cases reported every day in India has continued to increase, even after Day 21 of the lock-down. This is being attributed to slippages in the implementation of the lock-down, or gross under-detection of cases in the early stages, or both.
Balram Bhargava, Director General of Indian Council of Medical Research, admitted that it was “too difficult” to say whether daily new cases would start declining before the lock-down ends on May 3.
“It is a very difficult question to answer — whether it will peak by May 3. But what we can say is that we have managed to keep the progression under control,” he said.
Randeep Guleria, director of All India Institute of Medical Sciencies and a member of the empowered group, also pointed to the importance of people’s cooperation in keeping fatality rates low.
“If you don’t come [to the hospital] if you get COVID-19, and you come at the stage where you’re gasping for breath, it will lead to higher mortality. Therefore, I think it’s important that we encourage everyone to seek medical attention, get themselves tested. There is no shortage of test kits.”
India has already been able to keep mortality rates under control, thanks to the lock-down that helped limit the speed at which the virus spreads.
While around 30-35% of the resolved COVID-19 cases in countries like the US, Italy and the UK have so far ended with the death of the patient, in India, only around 15% of the resolved cases have resulted in the death of the patient.
It should be added that the fatality rate peaks in the early stages and then begins to fall as the healthcare system gets more adept at handling COVID-19 cases and the rapid inflow of new patients is also brought to manageable levels through lock-downs.