Only Kerala has thus far reported three cases of 2019-nCoV—although the fell virus is causing havoc in China and threatening to explode into a global pandemic—which may be because some of the other states have not got the detection capability of the state which has the most among advanced healthcare systems in the country. But Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and his team have done well in keeping away visitors from China, and in quarantining those who have recently returned from that country and who show symptoms of the disease. However, the Chinese authorities tarried for several weeks before communicating information of the virus on 31 December 2019. The world was alerted to the immense danger posed by the coronavirus (which has no cure) only on 11 January, when People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping ordered that the entire city of Wuhan should be in lockdown, with its residents unable to leave. Before that date, and well after the virus made the jump from animal to human, several million individuals left the city of 11 million to other parts of China and some to other countries. The high number of cases of Chinese nationals from Wuhan who have been diagnosed with 2019-nCoV indicate that the figures for infections released by the Chinese authorities are well below the actual number of cases. Some estimates put the number of patients as high as 160,000 with a death toll in the thousands of victims. If this is true, the number of cases in China is likely to reach very high levels and remain so for some time. It may prove to be to the credit of the Chinese authorities that the unprecedented steps taken by Xi Jinping following information received by him on the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak may assist both in preventing the dreaded disease from spreading outside China in anything of the scale with which the “Devil Virus” has attacked the world’s second biggest economy as well in mitigating to some extent the ravages of the epidemic within China. Had the President of China been warned earlier about the severity of the outbreak, the situation may have come under control by now. Leaders need to beware of subordinates who only pass on good news to them and hide the bad until such concealment is no longer possible. The speed of reporting of bad news to the top should be much faster than that of reporting good news, whereas the opposite seems to have become the norm, as witness the tardy manner in which the top leader in China found out that the virus was out of control and spreading dangerously.
Prime Minister Modi’s “Maan ki Baat” is immensely popular among the people, and is listened to with rapt attention by tens of millions across the country. They in turn convey the salient points to others, so that in a few days, the message in a particular “Maan ki Baat” discourse gets disseminated across the country. The Prime Minister needs to point to the need for a Health Etiquette. Those with fever should stay indoors rather than take a paracetamol tablet and mingle among crowds, infecting many. Hands should be kept far away from the mouth and nose unless washed, especially if they have touched surfaces in public places that may have been shared by those with disease. Sneezing and coughing should be done in a manner that prevents a spray of infected matter getting into the nostrils of those close by. This is why the wearing of face masks covering the mouth and nose should be encouraged by any individual who manifests symptoms of influenza. At a time when there is the risk of infection by a deadly virus, events that involve the congregation of thousands of individuals in a constricted space should be cancelled or avoided if held. Drilling into the collective minds of the citizenry such Health Etiquette would be a worthwhile contribution of Prime Minister Modi to public health. As is often said, but ignored in practice, prevention is better than cure. Given the low levels of income across many locations in India, it is imperative that the dreaded virus be kept as far away from our borders as possible, and in such a task, the government has acted correctly in stopping flights to and from China and in ensuring examination of those coming from locations known to have an outbreak of the coronavirus. The havoc that 2019-nCoV is causing in China should not occur in the only other country that has such a huge population of well over a billion. Keeping the coronavirus from seriously affecting the whole of India, the way the government of Kerala succeeded in fending off the Nipah scourge, is a gargantuan task that merits the highest priority