(Last updated on April 8th, 2020)
COVID-19 disease (the Wuhan novel coronavirus disease) is a highly infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus, which primarily affects the respiratory system. The COVID-19 virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Most patients will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment. Elderly people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are MORE LIKELY to develop serious illness. At this time, there are no specific vaccines or treatments for COVID-19. However, there are many ongoing clinical trials evaluating potential treatments.
The reason why there are no drugs to treat this coronavirus is because the COVID-19 virus is completely new and attacks cells in a novel way. Scientists around the globe are working at breakneck speeds around the clock and in shifts seven days a week in order to find a cure and mass produce it at the earliest.
The best way to prevent and slow down transmission is to be well informed about the COVID-19 virus, the disease it causes and how it spreads. Protecting yourself and others from infection by washing your hands or using an alcohol based rub frequently and not touching your faces is crucial to preventing its spread, along with practicing proper respiratory etiquette (for example, by coughing into a flexed elbow).
Myths about the coronavirus are aplenty, and it is our duty to arm ourselves with the right
information to tackle this disease. A few common myths are dispelled below –
1. Exposing yourself to the sun or to temperatures higher than 25°C DOES NOT prevent the COVID-19 disease.
2. Being able to hold your breath for 10 seconds or more without coughing or feeling discomfort DOES NOT mean you are free from COVID-19 or any other lung disease.
3. People of ALL AGES can be infected by COVID-19.
4. COVID-19 virus CAN be transmitted in areas with hot and humid climates.
5. Antibiotics are NOT EFFECTIVE in preventing and treating COVID-19.
6. COVID-19 CANNOT be transmitted through mosquito bites.
7. Hand dryers, ultraviolet disinfection lamps, taking hot baths, eating garlic, regularly rinsing your nose with saline and vaccines against pneumonia are NOT EFFECTIVE in killing or preventing COVID-19.
Flattening the curve and social distancing are two terms widely associated with the right against COVID-19. But what are they, and why are they essential in tackling the coronavirus?
In epidemiology, the idea of slowing a virus’ spread so that fewer people need to seek treatment at any given time is known as flattening the curve. The “curve” refers to the projected number of people who will contract COVID-19 over a period of time. The faster the curve rises, the quicker the local health care system gets overloaded beyond its capacity to treat people. A flatter curve means the same number of people get infected but over a longer period of time, thereby reducing the stress on the medical system and number of beds required at any given time.
This can be achieved by practicing social distancing. Social distancing is a public health safety intervention used to reduce the likelihood of transmitting infectious diseases, in this case COVID-19. Social distancing involves minimizing exposure to infected individuals by avoiding large public gathering venues, adhering to spacing requirements in the workplace, and following proper personal hygiene practices. The goal of social distancing is to limit exposure to infectious bacteria and viruses during a communicable disease outbreak.
COVID-19 knows NO borders and does NOT discriminate – whether rich or poor, celebrity or non celebrity, young or old, ANYONE can get infected, which makes it imperative that we religiously follow the guidelines set by the World Health Organization and our own Central and State Governments in order to keep not only ourselves but also the vulnerable people of our society safe.
How has India responded?
The Government of India has acted promptly and decisively, as seen in this brief timeline of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic (the Wuhan novel coronavirus disease)
As of January 31st, 2020
● On 30th January 2020, the first laboratory confirmed case of COVID-19 in India was reported in Kerala.
● The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) and the Ministry of Civil Aviation initiated inflight announcements and entry screening for symptoms of fever and cough for travelers coming from China at 21 airports of India, along with advising Indians to avoid non-essential travel to China.
● National Institute of Virology, Pune, equipped with international standards of expertise and capacity, started testing samples of COVID-19. 49 samples were tested, of which 48 were negative.
● 12 additional labs started to function in order to test for COVID-19.
As of February 6th, 2020
● MoHFW designated National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune as the nodal centre for coordinating diagnostics for COVID-19. Additionally, 11 regional laboratories started testing samples. As of 05 February 2020, 901 samples were tested of which only 3 were positive.
● Government of India (GoI) issued travel advisories requesting the public to refrain from travel to China and that anyone with a travel history since 15th January 2020 from China will be quarantined on return. Further, e-Visa facilities for Chinese passport holders were suspended and existing visas (already issued) were deemed no longer valid for any foreign national travelling from China to India.
● Screening of passengers was ongoing in 21 airports, international seaports and border crossings particularly with Nepal. At the time, over 6000 passengers from 29 States/UTs are under home quarantine.
● A 24×7 Control Room was made operational (011-23978046) and IEC materials were being widely disseminated through various communications channels such as print, electronic and social media.
As of February 13th, 2020
● Passengers were screened from 2,315 flights coming from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Singapore and Thailand. Screening of passengers was conducted in 21 airports, 12 international seaports and border crossings particularly with Nepal. Presently over 15,991 passengers are in home quarantine and 497 suspect cases are in facility isolation in 34 States/Union Territories (UTs).
● A total of 645 persons evacuated from Wuhan, have been quarantined at the camps maintained by Armed Forces and ITBP. They all have been tested negative for COVID-19 and will be re-tested again on completion of their quarantine period (14 days).
● As of 12 February 2020, 1,725 samples have been tested of which only 3 were positive.
As of February 28th, 2020
● The three cases of COVID-19 reported from Kerala fully recovered and were discharged from the hospital on 20th February 2020.
● On 22 February, GoI informed that universal screening at airports will also apply for flights arriving from Indonesia, Kathmandu, Malaysia and Vietnam.
● A total of 23,531 passengers are being monitored under community surveillance through Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) network on a daily basis.
● 2,880 samples have been tested as on 27 February 2020. 1,572 samples were referred from suspected cases throughout the country except those from the quarantine centres. 3 out of the 1,572 tested positive for COVID-19.
As of March 9th, 2020
● 44 confirmed cases were reported from India. This includes: Delhi (4), Haryana (14), Jammu (1), Kerala (9), Ladakh (2), Punjab (1), Rajasthan (2), Tamil Nadu (1), Telangana (1), Uttar Pradesh (9). Of these, 16 are foreign nationals. The 6 new cases from Kerala, were in addition to the 3 cases that have already recovered.
● Hospital isolation of the cases, tracing and home quarantine of their contacts was initiated in the states from where cases have been reported.
● As of 08 March, there are 52 laboratories identified by the Indian Council of Medical Research, for testing of COVID-19. A total of 57 laboratories have been identified to support sample collection and referral.
● As per the latest India travel advisory, all international passengers irrespective of nationality are mandated to undergo universal medical screening.
● As on 9 March, a total of 9,41,717 international passengers from 8,827 flights were screened at airports. 1,921 passengers were identified as symptomatic and 177 of them were hospitalized. 33,599 were under observation while 21,867 completed the observation period. Screening of passengers was also being done in 12 major seaports and 65 minor ports in the country.
● In addition to visa restrictions already in place, passengers traveling from /having visited Italy or Republic of Korea and desirous of entering India required a certificate of having tested negative for COVID-19 from the designated laboratories authorized by the health authorities of these countries.
● On 06 March, protocols for sample collection and testing were shared with the private sector. Risk communication was intensified. In order to spread awareness, special COVID-19 mobile phone caller tune was launched by all telecom operators with basic infection prevention messages played when a caller dials-out.
As of March 14th, 2020
● On 11 March, WHO declared the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) outbreak as a pandemic (an epidemic that has spread worldwide affecting a large number of people).
● On the same day, per the direction of the Prime Minister of India, a high-level Group of Ministers (GOM) was constituted to review, monitor and evaluate the preparedness and measures taken regarding management of COVID-19 in the country.
● GoI invoked powers under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 to enhance preparedness and containment of the virus and declared COVID-19 a ‘notified disaster’ under the Disaster Management Act 2005.
● Community surveillance, quarantine, isolation wards, adequate PPEs, trained manpower, rapid response teams for COVID-19 were strengthened further in all States and UTs.
● All incoming travelers, including Indian nationals, arriving from or having visited China, Italy, Iran, Republic of Korea, France, Spain and Germany after 15 February 2020 were quarantined for a minimum period of 14 days, in effect from 13 March 2020 at the port of departure.
● Through an integrated disease surveillance system, a total of 28,529 persons were being monitored under community surveillance.
As of March 22nd, 2020
● 23 states/UTs including New Delhi issued orders allowing only essential services to operate in 75 districts with confirmed COVID-19 cases until 31 March 2020. The focus was on closure of all activities except essential services such as hospitals, telecom, pharmacy, provision stores.
● PM Modi called for a ‘Janata curfew’ on 22 March from 7AM-9PM, urging people to stay home except those in essential services, enforcing social distancing interventions.
● In consultation with medical professionals, detailed advisory was issued for all health establishments to avoid non-urgent hospitalization and minimize elective surgeries.
● Allaying concern of the logistics for COVID-19 management particularly masks and hand sanitizers, GoI notified an Order under the Essential Commodities (ECs) Act, 1955 to declare these items as Essential Commodities up to 30 June.
● No scheduled international commercial passenger aircraft was to take off from any foreign airport for any airport in India, after 0001 hrs GMT of 22 March 2020 till 0001 hrs GMT of 29 March 2020.
● All train services were suspended till 31st March 2020 including sub urban rail services, metro rail services and interstate passenger transport. Good trains were to continue to operate for facilitating availability of essential commodities.
● These restrictions were temporary but considered critical to break the chain of transmission. States were requested to ensure that while such measures are being taken, necessary steps must be ensured to minimize discomfort to the poor and vulnerable sections of the society.
As of March 28th, 2020
● Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in exercise of the powers under section 6(2)(i) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, issued an order for State/UTs prescribing lockdown for containment of COVID-19 epidemic in the country for a period of 21 days with effect from 25 March, 2020.
● The WHO Country office for India is working closely with MoHFW to strengthen surveillance, build the capacity of the health system and optimize the ‘window of opportunity’ created by mandatory physical distancing in India.
● All incoming international flights were suspended and as of 25 March (through an order) extension of suspension was made till 14 April 2020.
● The finance ministry clarified that the Coronavirus can be classified as a natural calamity and the Force Majeure clause may be invoked. As per the finance ministry, a ‘force majeure’ means extraordinary events or circumstances beyond human control such as an event described as an Act of God (like a natural calamity).
● Indian Railways issued an order that the period from 22 March to 14 April will be treated under “Force Majeure”. Passenger movement has been restricted including inter-state travel, all efforts to ensure availability of essential commodities through its uninterrupted freight services in place.
As of April 5th, 2020
● Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to citizens to switch off electric lights at 9 pm on April 5th for 9 minutes, and light candles or diyas, or flash torchlights or mobile lights standing at their doorsteps or balconies.
● Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a joint meeting of the Empowered Groups (04 April) constituted for planning and ensuring implementation of COVID-19 response activities in the country.
● ICMR to collaborate in the global WHO Solidarity Trial – an international randomized trial of treatment of COVID-19 in hospitalized patients.
● MoHFW issued an order for insurance cover for all health workers for a period of 90 days through ‘Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package: Insurance Scheme for Health Workers Fighting COVID-I9’.
● GoI launched a mobile app ArogyaSetu (02 April) through a public-private partnership to enable people to assess their risk of COVID infection (in line with privacy and data security parameters).
For more information from the World Health Organisation, do read its situation reports.