In less than five months, the COVID-19 outbreak in India has spread to all states and union territories, infecting more than five lakh people. The curve is not flattening as the number of active cases has climbed to around two lakh cases and is still increasing, and more than 15,000 people have died because of the virus.
How did we end up here?
India ignored the warning signs when the first few cases surfaced in Kerala and didn’t screen all the international passengers up until March 6. The Indian Council for Medical Research didn’t test people with COVID-19 symptoms without a recent travel history and a known contact that might have transmitted the virus to them, up until March 20. The government’s official line for the public as late as March 13 was that the coronavirus was not a health emergency.
Social distancing as a method of keeping the virus at bay was first officially flagged by Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he spoke to the nation on March 19, in order to call for a one-day ‘Janata Curfew’ for March 22. The first national containment measure in the form of a nationwide lockdown was only introduced on March 25, three months after the first COVID-19 case was reported and two months after the WHO declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. This announcement was not preceded by any official planning, leading to the large-scale movement of the urban poor as they headed for their homes in rural areas.
In sum, the official strategy was an example of ‘too little, too late’ as hidden infections were already spreading in all parts of the country, followed then by ‘too much, too soon’ and not enough planning.
In this story, we look at some of the crucial moments of the outbreak and how they impacted our fight against the virus.
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Devesh Kumar is a data scientist and researcher at Reuters. He designed the COVID-19 Growth and Response Tracker for The Wire.