Covid-19 Pandemic in the Indian Scenario – A Future History Class?

The novel Coronavirus and the accompanying disease, Covid-19, were identified in late 2019 in Wuhan, China. Though Coronavirus first originated almost 15 years ago, the “novel” Coronavirus itself is new and it was previously not identified by the scientific community. On 11th March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially labelled the COVID-19 as a pandemic, as the virus had spread at an exponential rate across 80 countries, infecting over 200,000 people and killing over 8,900 people (as of 19th March). Coronaviruses are known to be a large family of viruses that can cause illness ranging widely in their severity. The first known severe illness caused by this virus was when SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) broke out in China in 2003. A second outbreak of severe illness again caused by this virus was MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) in Saudi Arabia in 2012. On 31st December 2019, the Chinese Authorities had alerted the WHO of an outbreak of a novel or new strain of Coronavirus which had not be detected or studied before. This epidemic has become a global crisis and there has been many lockdowns across various nations as well, in order to curb this mounting human to human transmission of the virus, which has further caused ripples across various economies.

According to researcher Josie Golding, epidemics lead at UK-based Wellcome Trust, this virus is a product of natural evolution which puts an end to the most speculations about deliberate genetic engineering. It’s further believed that the virus evolved to its current pathogenic state through natural selection in a non-human host and then jumped to humans mostly via the food chain. The researchers proposed that bats are the most likely reservoir for the novel Coronavirus as it is very similar to the bat corona virus.

On 30th January 2020, India confirmed its first case of novel Coronavirus – a student who had returned to Kerala from Wuhan University. This was followed by two more cases, again in Kerala. All the three have recovered from the infection and strict measures were taken in order to prevent them from spreading the disease. As of 19th March, the total number of confirmed cases in the country is 173 with Maharashtra having the highest at 47 followed by Kerala and Karnataka. The number of deaths reported in India as a result of this virus is four and it seems almost every day a new city is being tested positive, thereby increasing the tally at an alarming rate.

In order to control the spread of the virus, there have been many lockouts and curfews in the country. Various schools and colleges have been shut down, and even the Class 10 and 12 CBSE and ICSE examinations are being rescheduled. Malls, restaurants, pubs and any sort of public gathering are strictly banned and if guilty for violation, they would be charged with a heavy fine or cancellation of licence. Looking from an economic perspective, this can have a major blow on various sectors of the Indian economy namely the tourism, aviation, hospitality and trade.
The government has banned the export of all the ventilators as well as surgical and disposable masks and the raw textile material used for making these masks in order to seek adequate supply of the material when the count of Coronavirus infected patients is rising. When first cases of the novel Coronavirus were reported in India, it led to a shortage of essentials like sanitizers and masks due to panic buying. There were also some black marketeers, who sold these products at five times the original price; even fake alternatives of these products were in circulation.

Most industry experts agree that the effects of novel Coronavirus will have a downward impact on the Indian economy.  The aviation industry is the one which has been undoubtedly shaken the most. Ronojoy Dutta, the CEO of IndiGo Airlines has announced pay cut for all employees as there was an abrupt and precipitous drop in the airline revenues. To discourage people from using public transport (to avoid crowding of public places), the government has reduced their frequency and also refrained from any discount promoting price policy. Work from home and online classes are conducted to avoid people from travelling, but this brings forth the sad reality of social inequality where in most people do not have access to such luxurious technologies as most of our labour force are daily wage labourers. Due to fake message in circulation that Coronavirus is caused by animal consumption, people are refraining from the consumption of meat, egg and fish, which is a major blow to the animal husbandry industry – the chicken prices fell from 70 rupees per Kilogram to 10 rupees. This sector is harshly affected as it employs more than two crore people, which further had a rippling effect on other sectors as there was a reduction in purchase of maize and soybean used to feed these animals. These steep changes in the economy are sends shivers down and it is predicted that the economy can witness a plunge of nearly 2,919 points along with estimates that India’s economic growth could take a hit of up to a half a percentage point in the current fiscal year. To offset some of these setbacks, the Government of India is considering offering easier loan repayment terms and tax breaks for small and medium sized companies.

Some medical experts are of the opinion that India’s low number of Coronavirus cases could be a result of low testing and even the suspected cases may not have been documented properly. For instance, India authorities have checked only three out of 236 people who were bought from Iran where mass graves are built to bury the Covid-19 victims. There have also been reports of government help lines not working and of people who calling in with symptoms, are merely asked to stay at home. However, most international organizations have praised the Indian government’s efforts to control the spread of the virus.

Over the last few days, the Government has moved swiftly to combat the pandemic. The Government has banned the entry of incoming international flights from 22nd March to 28th March. On 19th March the Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi addressed the citizens in his speech about the Covid-19 and emphasized how important it is to remain home for the next couple of weeks. The Prime Minister had also requested the citizens to not go into panic buying for food and essential commodities. Of course, it is very important for us to stay calm at this hour and be human to not create any supply scarcity of these necessities in the market as it will only add to the problem in hand. The Prime Minister’s Janata (people’s) curfew on 22nd March is a noteworthy step in preparing the people to stay home and isolate themselves. Since all the malls, restaurants and other entertainment and tourist places are already closed across the nation, the curfew on a Sunday might not prove to be very effective, however, it is undoubtedly a necessary step to prepare Indian citizens for extreme caution that may be required in future.

Regardless of how India will emerge out of the current scenario, the novel Cornovirus and Covid-19 will be part of history or science lessons for students in schools and colleges.

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