The total number of confirmed Coronavirus cases had jumped to 117 in India, and while the government is trying hard to keep the numbers down, a huge challenge is being posed by frequent cases of confirmed cases and suspects.
Cases of Coronavirus afflicted patients or suspects escaping quarantines/ isolation wards are rising, especially in the state of Kerala. Every time a Coronavirus patient escapes, it creates a major public hazard as every single person the Coronavirus patient comes into contact with is at the risk of contracting the novel infection and this can set off a chain that will be impossible to contain. COVID19 is a zoonotic, airborne disease, highly communicable and it has been reported that infected people not showing any symptoms of the disease can still transmit the disease to people around them.
For instance, a Kerala man returning from Saudi Arabia was quarantined. He left his home, met with an accident and rushed to a hospital. Doctors and surgery staff realised he is afflicted with the Coronavirus symptoms and now the entire surgery system is at risk of contracting the Wuhan virus.
Imagine if this patient had escaped the doctors’ scrutiny and they had went ahead with treating other patients, bringing more doctors and patients at the risk of contracting the Wuhan virus.
Let's go through this slowly:
Kerala man returns from Saudi
Quarantined, he leaves home
Meets with accident
Rushed to hospital
Doctors realise he has #Covid19 symptoms
Docs are finally told abt his home isolation
Docs & surgery staff now in quarantinehttps://t.co/gz902KQMNW
— Shiv Aroor (@ShivAroor) March 16, 2020
Earlier, a group of foreign tourists was stopped from flying to Dubai from the Cochin airport. The group consisted of a Coronavirus-confirmed Britisher. The patient was lodged and asked to remain under observation at a state-owned resort in Kerala, but the group escaped isolation and boarded a Dubai flight and then all passengers of the flight had to be de-boarded and sent for testing.
In Odisha, an Irish man suspected of being infected with Coronavirus and sent to the isolation ward of a government hospital in Cuttack had absconded recently.
More recently, a US couple having symptoms of Coronavirus fled from the Alappuzha Medical College. Later, they were traced at the Kochi International Airport and were put under isolation.
Currently, India is in Stage II of the Wuhan virus outbreak, wherein the affliction of the novel infection is limited to those with a travel history Coronavirus-hit countries and those who come in contact with the infected persons. The government’s efforts are aimed at halting the Wuhan virus from reaching the next stage, viz. community transmission.
Every single infected or suspect person who escapes pushes us closer to community transmission. Once, we reach the stage of Community transmission, it will become virtually impossible to contain the Wuhan virus, which might take the shape of a near apocalypse.
There are lessons for India in how the Wuhan virus went out of control in the worst-affected countries. In South Korea, things were relatively smooth and under control till the 30th patient who tested positive for the novel virus, but when ‘Patient 31’ did not employ social distancing and visited crowded places in days prior to her diagnosis, Coronavirus took off like anything in South Korea.
Mindnumbing. Everything was smooth in South Korea for the first 30 #Coronavirus patients. Then the 31st patient decided not to employ social distancing. That ONE patient is now believed to have triggered EIGHTY PER CENT of the country’s infections. https://t.co/4rJY8aJfAQ
— Shiv Aroor (@ShivAroor) March 15, 2020
At the time of writing, South Korea had 8,230 confirmed Coronavirus cases and a total of 81 deaths. ‘Patient 31’ is believed to have triggered a mind-boggling 80 per cent of the total cases. This is the level of threat that every single person who escapes quarantine poses to the public health in India.
In Europe, Coronavirus has spread like wildfire, making it the new epicentre of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Cases in most countries are increasing by almost one-third every passing day. Italy and Spain are recording more deaths than that which were being reported in China- the country in whose wet markets the novel virus actually originated, at the same stage of the outbreak.
— Conrad Hackett (@conradhackett) March 16, 2020
This graph vividly describes how the Wuhan virus progressed beyond China. Initially, it was quite gradual, hitting Asian countries but suddenly there was a spike in South Korea- this should be after ‘Patient 31’ failed to undergo social distancing. Later, Italy overtakes South Korea as the Pandemic started shifting towards Europe.
Timeline of Coronavirus progression from Jan till March. pic.twitter.com/FQFIRgqXr5
— Girish Bharadwaj (@Girishvhp) March 14, 2020
As of now, India has not witnessed a sizeable jump that would put us in the category of countries like Italy or even the United States. But a single person escaping quarantine and coming into contact with a considerable number of people before getting apprehended will create a huge public health emergency.
Early days, but we are not on track of Italy or US yet.
From 80 cases, Italy went to 227 in 2 days.
From 80 cases, US went to 175 in 2 days.
India has gone from 80 to 110 in 2 days. pic.twitter.com/XQRGDxdkpU
— Abhishek (@AbhishBanerj) March 15, 2020
With our population and size, the Wuhan virus will easily spread at the scale and intensity seen witnessed in Italy and other countries hit severely by the novel virus.
What the government should do?
At the outset, it is becoming clear that the Centre’s advice to States to invoke Section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act doesn’t suffice. How can imprisonment of six months and a fine of Rs. 1,000/- combat such a humongous issue. Escaping Coronavirus quarantines is a bigger crime and thus we need to be far more ruthless- bigger jail time and bigger fines. Absconding in the midst of the Pandemic is nothing less than homicide, an attempt to murder or even terrorism and must be weighed higher than a six-month jail term. All States must enact Ordinances to increase the quantum of punishment, if the cases of Coronavirus patients absconding isolation are to be brought down.
We cannot afford a ‘Patient 31’ in India and social distancing will have to be enforced. Therefore, only a very short window must be given to those hiding COVID-19 symptoms or those rogue suspects who did not undergo screening/ checkup, to show up, failing which they can be charged with big fines and longer jail terms.
This is also the time when we start using the big data. South Korea effectively employed data collection and disease surveillance in order to contain the Coronavirus outbreak Modi government must rope in Google which with its flagship android OS rules the 94.66% market share in India. Presumably, every Indian smartphone user has a strong chance of carrying a phone with Google Apps in it.
335 passengers with travel history to Coronavirus-afflicted countries are, for instance, missing in Punjab. Such cases can be traced with the intrusion of Big Data. Collaboration with Google will help in identifying possible infections in close vicinity of the absconding rogue or unsuspecting Coronavirus patient.
We must admit that the greatest threat posed today is that of frequent cases of absconding blowing the Coronavirus outbreak in India into a near apocalypse and the next thing we know we are left enacting mass lockdowns and community quarantines of the kind that Italy has been compelled to enforce.