India, which shares a border with China and is home to nearly a fifth of the world’s population, has remained relatively unscathed by coronavirus’s widespread reach.
As of Wednesday, only 29 positive cases have been reported in the second most populous country in the world, according to a statement by Harsh Vardhan, the country’s minister of health.
Doctors and medical experts attribute this to some of the precautionary measures such as large-scale screening of passengers at airports, a robust quarantine system, and messages intended to increase awareness. Harshal R. Salve, associate professor at the Center for Community Medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), told India’s IANS news agency, "India has adopted stringent screening measures at all ports and put in place a robust quarantine system to deal with suspected coronavirus cases."
India, which issued the first travel advisory on January 17, 2020, has screened passengers since January 18 at seven major airports. This was subsequently expanded to 21 airports, the minister said in his address to the parliament.
Vardhan added, “All regular visas and e-visas granted to the nationals of Italy, Iran, South Korea, and Japan issued on or before March 3 stand suspended with immediate effect. The visas granted to the nationals of China, issued on or before February 5 were suspended earlier.”
In addition to visa restrictions, passengers traveling from or having visited Italy or South Korea and want to enter India will need certificate showing they tested negative for coronavirus from the designated laboratories authorized by the health authorities of these countries, the minister said.
The first three cases reported in the state of Kerala have since recovered and have been discharged already. Kerala’s response to coronavirus has been remarkable, says Oommen C. Kurian, Senior Fellow, Health Initiative, at Observer Research Foundation, a Delhi-based independent think tank.
Although the central government suggested a quarantine period of 14 days, the Kerala government has taken no chances and quarantined people for 28 days as a precautionary measure. The state published daily updates about quarantine, tests, and hospitalizations.
However, he feels testing travelers requesting those who are ill to report symptoms may not be enough.
“India needs to actively test to find out the true extent of the spread,” Kurian said.
Dr. KK Agarwal, the former president of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has a different theory. He was quoted in The Times of India, saying, “Viruses thrive in lower temperatures, which is why coronavirus has spread fast to Southeast Asian countries that are cooler and less humid than India. South Korea and Japan have seen rapid transmission, while India, despite receiving a patient from China in early February, seems to have averted an outbreak.”
He added that similar epidemics in the past like SARS, yellow fever, and Ebola had a less severe impact on India.
"Coronaviruses tend to be associated with winter because of how they're spread," explains Elizabeth McGraw, who directs the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Pennsylvania State University.
However, this stance which suggests that the epidemic would “miraculously go away” as soon as the weather warms up, as Donald Trump pointed out, is ruled as premature by some experts.
“I think it’s premature to assume,” Dr. Nancy Messionnier of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was quoted in Time magazine. “We haven’t been through even a single year with this pathogen."
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