Coronavirus: WHO expert says India's 2-lakh cases 'modest', could explode
Even as the coronavirus cases in India surpassed Italy's, top experts of the World Health Organization (WHO) said the outbreak is still "modest." However, they warned the number of cases in India could "explode" as it starts to emerge from the nationwide lockdown. Till Saturday morning, India had reported 6,642 deaths and over 2.3 lakh cases (sixth-highest in the world). Here are more details.
WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan said that 2 lakh cases only "look big" for a country such as India, which has a population of over 1.3 billion people. Swaminathan added that for India's size, the number of cases is "still modest." WHO Health Emergencies Programme Executive Director Michael Ryan said that currently, the number of cases is doubling over a period of three weeks.
Ryan said that although the measures taken by India have helped limit transmission, there is a risk of further spread as the country starts to open up. So, while COVID-19 is not spreading at an exponential pace, it is still growing, Ryan said. As the lockdown and restrictions are lifted, it must be ensured that people take all the necessary precautions, Swaminathan added.
Swaminathan said, "As some states are thinking about opening, every institution, organization, industry, and sector needs to think about what are the measures that need to be put in place before you can allow a functioning and it may never be back to normal."
Swaminathan noted that India is huge and heterogeneous, with very densely populated cities and much lower density in some rural areas, which presents its own challenges. Further, the large amount of migration and the varying health systems in different states add to the challenge, the experts said. They also noted that many workers have no choice but to go to work.
Swaminathan said it's important for people to understand the rationale behind precautions for a large-scale behavioral change. For example, in urban areas, it is impossible to maintain physical distancing, hence it becomes even more important for people to wear appropriate face coverings, she said.
According to the Union Health Ministry, as of 8 am on Saturday, India had reported a total of 2,36,657 cases after a record single-day jump of 9,887 cases. The total cases include 6,642 fatalities along with 1,15,942 active cases, 1,14,072 patients who were cured or discharged, and one patient who migrated out of India. India will likely surpass Spain's tally by Sunday.
India was placed on lockdown on March 25, when it had reported just over 500 COVID-19 cases. Since then, the lockdown has been extended in a phased manner, with relaxations from restrictions accompanying each phase. The lockdown will start to roll back in a phased manner in most regions from June 8. However, containment zones will remain under lockdown till June 30.