There are theories that authoritarian regimes stop information from reaching to global community; like Amartya Sen mentions that millions of starvation deaths in China got unreported in great famine 1959-61. And China repeated this mistake once again in take-off stage of COVID-19 by silencing professors, journalists and doctors who tried to share coronavirus outbreak without the consent of Chinese government. But when Chinese government realized the gravity of the problem, the measures they took really were appreciating and became an example for rest of the world to follow.
Hilary Brueck, et al., writing in Business Insider dated March 19, 2020 reveal that the quick action which China took was building of hospitals in days, rapid testing protocols and utilizing technology that attempted to trace all 80,000 plus virus cases. In Chinese province Guangdong, which is 10 hours drive from Wuhan, 320,000 tests were conducted in the clinics at the peak of the outbreak and only 0.47 percent were positive. They did not wait for selective tests but focused on broader option. Patients who were confirmed to have infected with virus were sent to isolation center or hospital. The government also made clear that testing was free and COVID-19 charges that were not covered by a person’s insurance would be paid for by the government.
No doubt democracies give wider freedom to an individual, but only liberty will not serve us unless and until we have strong institutions which are ready to meet the seen and unforeseen challenges of humanity. Countries are in a race to fulfil national interests but fail to understand that investment in human security is key to success.
No country in the world was prepared for this impending disaster even the superpower of the world the United States of America. The New York Times of 21st March reveals that in US, COVID-19 testing capacity still lags far behind many other countries, public health laboratories have tested over 32,824 specimens across the US. While as South Korea, which is just one-sixth of the size of USA, more than 3 lakh tests have been conducted so far. The medical officials in a number of states in USA warn of dwindling supplies of crucial gear, like protective equipment, and what they believe will be vast demand of ventilators.
The world should be thankful that they got an opportunity and early warning by Wuhan experience and the methodology which Chinese adopted without any vaccine. The immediate lockdown and cooperation of people to stay indoors and managing resources in establishing special hospitals in minimum possible time. They sacrificed their economic resources to save their people and not allowed to move them out which could have been catastrophic for whole world. Sometimes curtailment of freedom is in the larger good of humanity. They identified the infected, isolated them and then were referred to hospitals.
World got almost two and half months to brace up for overcoming the challenges of COVID-19. But unfortunately, by then it had consumed thousands of lives. In some countries like India, people suspected to be COVID-19 infected escaped from hospitals, boarded trains and airlines thus becoming active agents. This needs to be researched that why they escaped from such quarantine centers. Were they not hygienic and equipped with the modern facilities or they were just afraid of staying long in these centers?
My hypothesis is that it is not only resources which a state can rely on in any exigency like this but it depends on how much a state has invested in health care system over the years, and chalking out immediate strategy and then giving it practical shape. Had India, the USA, Italy and Iran emulated Chinese methodology in overcoming this tide, perhaps bit late. By now people in India or elsewhere realized the cost of corona virus scare, they will humbly follow the directions of authorities. The governments need to take welfare measures to feed those who were dependent on earnings of daily livelihood. After all life is more important, people for the time being will face brunt of economic crisis but should not put themselves to risk of losing their lives.
Emergent situations like this need extraordinary measures and what can be these measures. Some of them are as follows:
Immediate lockdown; It should be curfew like situation
Testing to be done at large scale level, which will help in identifying pockets, wherever it is more prevalent and take necessary measures.
Establishing more labs and procurement of all necessary kits for conducting of such tests
Society as whole has responsibility in identifying such infected persons and people should cooperate with health care institutions.
Pumping more money and if government is deficient in funds, take immediate measures for compulsory donations from government employees, business class, corporate sector etc.
Use of disposable cups, plates in all restaurants, dhabas, and in hospitals for at least one-month period.
Augmenting current health care facilities and establishing temporary hospitals with facilities of laser thermometers, masks, x-ray machines, ventilators and other relevant medical equipments.
The message is simple; be prepared, and save humanity from the jaws of death.
Dr. Mohammed Yousuf Bhat is Assistant Professor, Higher Education, J&K