(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
Thailand hasn’t reported a new Coronavirus case for seven weeks now. Nobody has died in the Indo-China countries of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to the pandemic which has tormented our world with millions of cases besides 600,000 dead and counting. Are we talking of two different planets here?
This only gets intriguing if you remember that Thailand was the first country outside China to report the first Coronavirus positive patient. That it’s one the most visited place for people from Wuhan, the villain of this tragic outbreak. That Bangkok for five years now is the most visited city of the world, with 22 million visitors last year. That Thailand was the worst-effected country with HIV/AIDS outside East and Southern Africa. In 2018 alone, 18,000 people died to AIDS-related illness. That around half of those infected are young people between 15-24 years.
Big cities and slums are said to be most susceptible to Coronavirus outbreaks. Experts cite New York, London, Mumbai and Delhi as proof, as they do the instance of slums of Brazil which would soon have 100,000 dead from the pandemic. Both Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh account for 20 million living lives. The cities of these countries also abound in slums. We aren’t even counting the visitors. Yet there are no community outbreaks.
Scientists would love to nail down the reason why Coronavirus stands defeated at the doors of these countries. Has it anything to do with the mighty Mekong River, 12th biggest in the world, which passes through all these four countries through its length of 4,350 kms? Another country which is home to Mekong River is Myanmar which too has only six deaths to show thus far. Yunnan, the southwestern Chinese province through which Mekong also flows through, has less than 190 cases. All have recovered.
Mekong River, there is little doubt, is the water-road in this part of the world. It’s a safety net during times of crisis. When lockdowns are enforced and economy begins to pinch, a whole lot of unprivileged people—informal workers, labourers, taxi drivers, little traders—go from their rural habitats to cities and back. In times of crisis, it’s nature’s supermarket: the forests, rivers and wetlands which provide food and sustenance to the teeming poor. Then there are fisheries which ensure nobody sleeps hungry.
All this is okay but it doesn’t explain why Coronavirus has stayed away? Should we offer the silly logic that there might be something in the features and physical make-up of these people who look similar and could pass off as locals? I mean if you spot a Vietnamese in Thailand what chances are that you would know he is a foreigner?
The AFP recently ran a story in which it threw wild darts in the darkness to guess the phenomenon. Could be the Thai habit of greeting others with a Wai, another name for Namaste really, which is social distancing by habit? Should one put it to Thailand’s robust health care system? The outdoor lifestyle of many Thais? Is there a genetic component one is missing here?
Thais have a mask-wearing culture. Heavy vehicular traffic and the resultant air pollution, not to forget the emissions from industries and farmers burning fields for plantations, has made masks a way of life over the years. A study informs that during the pandemic, 95 percent of Thais have been wearing masks in public.
Experts are also wondering if this has to do with the immune system. It’s the part of the world where malaria, dengue, cholera etc break out frequently. Has it imbued these people with some sort of immunity in their genetic make-up?
Is Thailand doing things differently than others? Let’s look at the timeline: China reported its outbreak on December 31, 2019. Three days later, Thai airports were screening the visitors. A day later, an emergency operation centre had been set up by the public health ministry. By January 8, the first suspected Coronavirus case had been identified. Within days, people arriving at airports were monitored and quarantined, if necessary. Eventually all visitors from abroad were quarantined.
There was a moment of disquiet for sure. Transmissions had begun to jump by March in Bangkok. A cluster of infected patients developed around nightclubs and a boxing stadium. On March 21, schools and non-essential businesses had been shut. On March 26, public gatherings were banned. International flights had stopped by April 4. Red-light districts were closed. Sex workers rushed back home. Tourists fled.
But at least 58 people have died in Thailand due to the pandemic. What explains the “miracle” of Indo-China? The incredulous immunity of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos?
Besides the routine measures—we all know, masks, social-distancing, sanitizing hands etc—Vietnam has adopted a stringent screening procedure. Thus, be it banks, restaurants, airports or even apartment complexes, all need to have themselves screened at virtually every point of interaction, so to say. In Cambodia, thanks to overwhelming medical aid from around the world, the corona-testing kits are cheap and readily available. No less is said to be the reason that most of Cambodia is rural, as is Laos, and the pandemic has been easy on the village folks so far.
It’s this success against the Corona, that all these countries are now open to foreign visitors. They are not back to normal, for they never went off the rails in the first instance. I know you would bring up economic fallout–there are plenty of whiners in India for me to know their type–but that, some other day, some other time.
(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
These are bad times for jokes but the one by India’s premier health agency looks particularly awful when it says it’s “testing” less than it could.
India is doubling the count of its Corona Virus patients twice every week and 40 have perished in the last 24 hours but the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) simply hasn’t cast its net wide enough to assure an anxious nation of a billion plus.
India is dawdling at 190,000 tests put together as on Sunday which bears a sorry comparison with the United States (2,700.000), Italy (1,000,000) and Spain (350,000), three nations reeling the most under the unforgiving pandemic.
India today isn’t short of hands or testing kits. It’s good enough for 20,000 tests a day. It also isn’t shy of promising 100,000 tests a day soon. So what’s stopping it from showing its full hand to the growing footprint of the killer virus?
Specific and not random tests
It would seem India’s strategy is more by design than neglect. India has so far preferred to do tests only on those who have shown symptoms. Such information is either being relayed by patients themselves or a confirmed case is being followed up. In no case, suspects are allowed to visit nearby designated hospitals on own.
It appears there is a corollary to such caution. A nursing home in Washington made headlines for being the biggest harbinger of disease to nearby community. The Virus arrived on the host-patients and spread itself on staff, security and residents without distinction. Wuhan in China bears reports on patients calling up on routine health issues and ending up infecting those unfortunate to be around them.
The red flag of mass testing is obvious too. How do you do it? By rounding up people and allowing the disease to hop and spread to the last man in the queue? Instead, India’s healthcare is opting to swarm around hot-spots in the country of which they have identified a few dozens. It’s here that they are rolling up sleeves and getting into combat mode. Mass testing with lockdown in place doesn’t quite make much sense to them.
No community spread yet
India still maintains it’s in Phase Two of the spread, that it is still local and not communal which would’ve set alarm bells ringing. It went into a lockdown mode when there were still only 150 cases on the chart. Italy, Spain and France in contrast shut itself up at least 7-10 days prior but their cases–and fatalities–were already in thousands. The horse had already bolted.
India could also take comfort that out of its 707 districts, only 325 so far are in the infected list. It’s fatality roll of just over 300 isn’t cause for panic yet. The people have so far stoically borne the pains of a lockdown. Indeed, they are bracing for an extension of lockdown without quite throwing up.
It’s not to say India is out of woods yet. It’s a long summer ahead. Slums remain a major worry. Dharavi, one of Asia’s biggest in Mumbai, is racking up patients steadily. Delhi, India’s capital, has sealed off at least two dozen of its infected pockets. The western state of Mahrashtra which houses India’s commercial capital Mumbai, accounts for nearly half of India’s total deaths. India hasn’t turned the corner yet.
India, for sure, would ramp up tests in coming days. It’s also almost given that more cases and more fatalities would show up. It would hope it’s still manageable. And that its’ strategy of testing visitors, and enforcing lockdown when the numbers were still low, was a clincher. Else, it would rue it didn’t test enough when the time was still on its side.