The government response to the coronavirus outbreak in India

Healthcare in India

This week saw fifteen new cases of coronavirus being reported in Jaipur, after the first case was reported from Kerala. This takes the total coronavirus cases in India to twenty-one and is in addition to the sixteen Indians that have tested positive for coronavirus aboard the cruise liner Diamond Princess in Japan. The coronavirus has now spread to over 70 countries and killed more than 3,000 people worldwide. 

The Indian government began responding to the threat immediately and so far, screening wards have been set up in major cities in India. For example, in Delhi the Manesar camp is already monitoring those who have come from China. Ram Manohar Lohia, AIIMS and Safdarjung hospitals in the capital have also readied their isolation facilities. Two major private schools in Noida have been shut and many others have been issued an advisory asking parents to keep their wards at home if they show symptoms of respiratory illnesses.

In Mumbai and Pune, two hospitals, Kasturba Hospital and Naidu Hospital have been tasked to screen the suspected patients in Maharashtra. As on 4 March 2020, over 60,000 travellers from 551 flights were screened at Mumbai Airport due to coronavirus fears.

The Gujarat government, with the help of Airport Authority of India (AAI) has also set up special screening desks at the Ahmedabad and Surat international airports for the passengers arriving from abroad.

The Uttar Pradesh government, in January, had directed officials to set up ten-bed isolation wards in every district hospital and medical college of the state as a precautionary measure to deal with suspected cases of coronavirus.

Presently, tourist accommodations and tourist sites in Agra have been instructed to inform the office of the Chief Medical Officer as soon as visitors from Italy, Iran or China arrive, so that they can be screened for the coronavirus infection.

Karnataka has also boosted its preparedness against coronavirus in the border districts of Dakshina Kannada, Kodagu, Chamarajnagar and Mysuru, which have been put under surveillance following the detection of three cases in Kerala.

Similarly, Manipur and Mizoram have opened facilities to screen people arriving in the North East region. While Manipur’s centres are located in border towns and at the Imphal International Airport, Mizoram, on the other hand, is monitoring people entering through the India-Myanmar border at Zokhawthar.

The Union Ministry of Health & Family Welfare has also issued an official travel advisory for Indian nationals in which Indian citizens are advised to refrain from travelling to China while those who do, will be quarantined on return. Existing visas (including an eVisa already issued) are no longer valid for any foreign national travelling from China. Visitors must contact the Embassy in Beijing or the Consulates in Shanghai and Guangzhou to apply for a new Indian visa. Indian nationals in China have been advised to contact the Indian Embassy for assistance and information. They are further advised to refrain from non-essential travel to the following countries:

  • Singapore
  • Republic of Korea
  • Islamic Republic of Iran
  • Italy

Further people coming from Republic of Korea, Iran and Italy or those having history of travel to these countries may be quarantined for 14 days on arrival to India and passengers from 12 countries are being screened, including those from Kathmandu, Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of a severe shortage in personal protective equipment (PPE) and has called on manufacturers to urgently increase production to meet the growing demand as the novel coronavirus rapidly spreads across the globe. It is estimated that PPE supplies must be increased by 40% to meet requirements.

In line with this development, India has imposed "some restrictions" on the export of certain medical equipment to China in view of the shortage of supply in their country and the precautions taken are in accordance with World Health Organisation's (WHO) advisory for the coronavirus outbreak.

India has also restricted the export of about 26 Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) and formulations including antibiotics, vitamins and hormones like Paracetamol, Tinidazole, Metronidaxole, Vitamins B1, B6, B12 and hormones like progesterone with immediate effect. 

The current guidance from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention recommends calling a medical professional if the following symptoms are noticed and:

  • Live in or have travelled to an area with a known coronavirus outbreak
  • Have had close contact with someone else who lives in or has travelled to an area with a known coronavirus outbreak
  • Have had close contact with another infected person

The World Bank has announced a $12 bn package to assist countries grappling with the health and economic impacts of this disease.

It is advised to follow all precautions and refer to official sources such as the CDC website for updates and new information on do’s and don’ts to curb new infections.

This blog has been authored by Kartikeya Saigal.