India took Covid-19 ‘very seriously’ from start: WHO Chief Scientist

India is among the countries that took Covid-19 “very seriously” from the beginning, World Health Organisation (WHO) chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan has said. She lauded the Narendra Modi government’s efforts in containing the spread of infection until now.
Discussing India’s response, Swaminathan sought to highlight a timeline shared by Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan during a meeting last week with counterparts from 194 nations.
“The timeline he presented was quite credible. It showed that, by 30 January, India had set up all the committees and states were already screening travellers from China,” said Swaminathan.
“Indian health authorities tracked the incoming passengers. They called these incoming passengers everyday for the next 14 days to check their symptoms. Probably this is how India was able to limit and contain infections and has been able to keep the curve really flat,” she added.
According to Swaminathan, India’s initial cases sneaked into the country because of “the inefficacy of temperature-screening machines”. “Also, a lot of people from Europe brought infections in the country around late March,” she said.
The Indian demographic, she added, had a role to play as well in India’s low tally of cases and deaths. “Infections are lower possibly because of the demographics as the population is younger. But scientists need to analyse the data to understand why India had lesser cases,” she said.
However, she sought to warn India that the numbers could begin to go up anytime, saying the government must continue its efforts. “A spike in cases would be worrying in crowded places like urban slums. Physical distancing in Europe is different from developing countries of the world where people live in overcrowded cities,” said Swaminathan.
Countries such as India and some parts of Africa need a different and more balanced approach, she added. “They could pioneer a different approach and put in place sensible measures to contain the transmission. Also, community participation must be encouraged.”

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