The current situation of COVID-19 in India could have been avoided if the migrant workers had been allowed to go home before the imposition of the lockdown when the disease spread was very low, according to a report by a group of public health experts.
According to a COVID-19 task force comprising eminent health experts from the Indian Public Health Association (IPHA), Indian Association of Preventive and Social Medicine (IAPSM) and the Indian Association of Epidemiologists (IAE), the migrant workers who are now going back to their home states are taking coronavirus infections to each and every corner of the country.
As per the report, the migrant workers are spreading the virus mostly in rural and peri-urban areas, in districts with relatively weak public health system.
The report has now been sent to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
India’s nationwide lockdown from March 25 till May 30 has been one of the most ‘stringent’ and yet COVID-19 cases have increased exponentially through this phase, that is, from 606 cases on March 25 to 138,845 on May 24, they said.
“This draconian lockdown is presumably in response to a modeling exercise from an influential institution which presented a ‘worst-case simulation’. The model had come up with an estimated 2.2 million deaths globally.
“Subsequent events have proved that the predictions of this model were way off the mark. Had the Government of India consulted epidemiologists who had better grasp of disease transmission dynamics compared to modelers, it would have perhaps been better served,” the report stated.
From limited information available in the public domain, the experts said it seems the government was primarily advised by clinicians and academic epidemiologists with “limited field training and skills”.
“Policy makers apparently relied overwhelmingly on general administrative bureaucrats. The engagement with expert technocrats in the areas of epidemiology, public health, preventive medicine and social scientists was limited,” they said in the report.
According to the report, India is paying a heavy price, both in terms of humanitarian crisis and disease spread.
The experts have recommended constituting a panel of inter-disciplinary public health and preventive health experts and social scientists at central, state and district levels to address both public health and humanitarian crises.
It has suggested that all data, including test results, should be made available in public domain for the research community (clinical, laboratory, public health and social sciences) to access, analyse and provide real-time context-specific solutions to control the pandemic.