Compare and Contrast: The Indian Approach v/s The East Asian Approach In Tackling COVID-19
The threat of the deadly coronavirus has led most nations to take pre-emptive measures and isolate themselves from the world at large. While lockdowns and cordoning off places have become the norm, the economic tradeoff – that of the cost incurred in exchange for ‘flattening the curve’ – is humongous. While India and the world grapple with an exponential progression in the number of COVID-19 cases, we could perhaps take a leaf out of the book of South Korea and China, both of whom have had incredible success in containing the virus within manageable proportions.
India’s draconian lockdown, for twenty-one days initially, and now an extension of two more weeks, for most services, is a move inspired by China’s dramatic lockdown of the industrial town of Wuhan – widely considered as the epicenter of the crisis. The lockdown on Wuhan and other provinces in the vicinity ensured that the virus could not spread beyond marked geographical areas. From there on, China flexed its monetary muscle and manpower to construct dedicated hospitals in record time, provide relief material to all affected residents, and ensuring strict compliance with the defined laws.
While India has been able to replicate the imposition of a national lockdown, it is found lagging in other aspects. We did not take into account the spiralling discomfort of the informal sector – which employs 94% of the workforce and accounts for 45% of the national output. The Chinese response to the pandemic in economic terms was to unleash a $394 billion-dollar (2.77% of GDP) stimulus package for reviving domestic growth affected by the outbreak. India, on the other hand, has announced a measly $22.5b revival plan – worth approximately 0.77% of India’s GDP. Furthermore, while China has 4.3 beds per 1000 people, India has approximately a 1:1000 ratio when it comes to the availability of beds.
Perhaps the wiser route could have been finding a middle ground between the Chinese version of a lockdown and South Korea’s rapid test-and-treat model. By avoiding closure of industries, Seoul managed to escape the economic cost of flattening the curve – as described in the introduction- and it did a pretty good job at that. Its highly disciplined workforce, led by a proactive government embarked upon the model of high testing rates to detect and isolate all affected individuals – an important lesson for India.
Transparency in data, especially in these challenging times, is essential to making a quick recovery. Any delay in data coordination or a deliberate attempt to veil the actual number of cases may prove to be costly as time advances. States like West Bengal share data once every three days, thereby hampering smooth coordination. Further, the Central government should step in and mandatorily fix a testing rate per million of the population; varying testing rates across states will bring with it varied success outcomes. While South Korea had a testing rate of around nine thousand per million, India’s figures reflect poorly at only ninety-three per million. By opting for a complete lockdown, India also has inflicted upon itself a great economic cost which it has to bear once the crisis resides.
Early detection and swift action was another aspect in which the Indian government failed. The South Korean government was instrumental in detecting cases early and immediately got in contact with pharmaceutical companies, asking them to ramp up production of testing kits. Today, South Korea produces around 100,000 kits per day- and now is in talks with other countries to export it. India had maintained a lackadaisical attitude in the initial stages – with religious congregations and expos in full swing – until it occurred to the administrators that it was time to take action.
South Korea also immensely benefited from taking the help of the citizens to ward off the threat as a collective society. Due credits should be accorded to India in this regard. The government wasprudent to create and circulate an app called ‘Aarogya Setu’, which relies on self-declaration and via GPS technology, notifies a person who has crossed paths with a potential victim of coronavirus.
Yet, positive mends are being made. Several politicians have stepped beyond their party lines to tackle the pandemic. Shashi Tharoor spent his MPLAD fund to procure 1000 rapid-testing kits for use in his constituency and beyond. The Odisha government was instrumental in getting mining giants to spend on dedicated COVID-19 hospitals with a combined capacity of a thousand beds. Similarly, the Delhi government’s 5T model of testing, tracing, treatment, teamwork, and tracking and monitoring has worked well.
It is in the interest of the people at large that after several years of neglect and ignored recommendations of a large number of specialised committees, the government acts of its own accord and prepares to strengthen the health infrastructure in India. But mindless spending will not help the process. It should also be followed up with the establishment of high-quality, government-sponsored medical institutions and colleges that seek to promote a research-oriented approach to learning, rather than the conventional syllabi over the decades. Such training will also help bridge the discord between a large number of hospitals being set up and the stark deficiency of doctors on duty. It’s time for the government to do its bit to thank the countless health workers putting their lives at stake – not by instances of moral support alone – but by fundamentally bettering the faltering public health system in India.