India has a "unique challenge" in the face of population density in its fight against the coronavirus crisis, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said as it responded to a question from indiatvnews.com. Clusters of cases in India have been reported from 13 most populated cities, WHO Chief Scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan noted as she highlighted the challenge posed by population in India.
"Density of population is a unique challenge in India, particularly in the urban areas. From reports I have seen coming out of the country, 70 percent of the cases and deaths that are being reported in India are coming from the 13 most populated cities. And even within those cities, there are micro clusters of cases that need attention," Dr Swaminathan said.
"This is a big challenge but needs a strategy to address. A lot of testing and contact tracing needs to be carried out in India. There needs to be constant monitoring and re-orientation in India," she further added.
The WHO Chief Scientist also mentioned that India needs to protect the frontline workers, which has largely been the priority of the Modi government. These include doctors, nurses, policemen, bus drivers, ambulance drivers etc.
"There are good models within India, they have shown that it is possible," she reckoned.
On relaxing the lockdown in India, WHO epidemiologist Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove said: "In a number of countries that are lifting lockdown slowly, we have seen a gradual increase in cases. The delay in the emergence of cases is about 2 to 3 weeks from the time that the lockdown is lifted. This is an important factor."
"Incubation period of the virus is 5 to 6 days, which means a person can contract the virus and not show symptoms for a period of 5-6 days. And therefore the number of cases could rise because of this. These individuals need to be tracked over time," she added.
"We must all remain on high alert and ready to detect cases and apply these measures that we know can suppress transmission."
WHO Executive Director Mike Ryan also weighed in on this gradual opening of lockdown. "The real question is how you balance between the resumption of economic activities and controlling the coronavirus," he said.
"Countries that have taken real ownership of the problem politically and pulled in the maximum amount of information from outside and then adapted and driven a local response with communities on board have done well. This has not been about global knowledge, stopping the virus," Dr Ryan added.
"Where they have been sensitive and empathic to local population need, they have found the balance. That balance cannot be set internationally, it is the job of the local government that is working on the ground," he said.
Speaking of India's implementation of lockdown measures, Dr Ryan said, "India is one of the largest countries in the world. A center for science, a center for public health. They did implement the measures early. But at the same time, India has one of the densest populations in the world, has pockets of real poverty and underprivileged. We need to make sure that those pockets are protected as India moves towards opening the society," he said.
India's coronavirus cases have piled up to nearly 200,000. The fourth phase of lockdown ended on May 31 and the first phase of gradual unlocking of activities began on June 1. With the virus yet to peak in the country, the need to be vigilant cannot be stressed further.