January 30, 2020.The day marked a grim yet important milestone for India.
A 21-year-old student who returned from China’s Wuhan tested positive for the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) on that day, marking the beginning of what would turn out to be an unprecedented year presenting never-seen-before challenges.
While the pandemic gripped India in the first week of March with infections being reported among those who returned to the national capital region (NCR) and other parts of the country from abroad, it was the case of the Kerala student, and two similar incidents in the state almost at the same time, that announced the arrival of Covid-19 in the country of 1.3 billion people exactly a year ago.
“I was speechless when I heard my daughter was positive. When she returned home from Wuhan (the place in China where the outbreak is believe to have begun), where she was pursuing her medical studies, we were really relieved. But when she was tested positive four days later, return we were totally shattered,” said the father of India’s first patient.
The young woman was immediately shifted to a treatment facility that the government had built in anticipation of an outbreak. There she stayed for 28 days, till recovery. Two more students who returned from Wuhan tested positive two days later, but they had to spend just 14 days each at designated Covid facilities.
The three cases in Kerala marked the beginning of the pandemic in India. And in March, the first wave came. What happened next could be exemplified with many grim firsts.
The government imposed stringent curbs on activities and travel on March 25, allowing only essential activities. Before that, it had already announced international travel advisories. With the lockdown in place, businesses downed shutters and streets bustling otherwise fell silent. Flights were grounded and trains were stationed. The lockdown triggered a massive humanitarian crisis with migrant workers, who lost their livelihoods, traversing hundreds of kilometers on foot to reach their villages.
After 68 days of hard lockdown, the government began implementing a graded plan to reopen businesses and bring economic activities, hit hard by the restrictions, back on track in June. It also announced a ₹20 lakh crore economic package to negate the effect of the pandemic.
“Several measures were taken even before the first case of Covid-19 was reported from India. India’s travel advisories were issued much before WHO (the World Health Organisation) declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern (in January-end). Several ministries and departments got together in managing the outbreak from the very beginning that saved time between decision taking and execution. Covid-19 testing was ramped up in a short span of time, with the current capacity of performing at least one million tests in a single day in more than 2,000 ICMR -approved labs. All this has been a commendable feat,” said a senior Union health ministry official, requesting anonymity.
On January 16, 2021, the world’s largest inoculation drive began in India with Serum Institute of India’s Covishield — the company is manufacturing the vaccine by Oxford University and British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca in the country — and Bharat Biotech’s indigenously produced Covaxin. India is also supplying vaccine to its neighbours.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said the national capital witnessed a very effective Covid-19 management strategy due to the “dedication of the Aam Aadmi Party government and our health care workers”.
“Our Covid management is being discussed across the world. Delhi’s Covid circumstances were the worst in the world. On November 11, there were 8,500 corona cases in a single day, which were the highest in any city across the world. From that day to today, we are at a point of very low number of cases and a positivity rate of below 0.5%. This is a victory for the people of Delhi and the honest governance they voted for last year,” he said.
As of Friday, India registered 10.73 million cases and about 154,200 fatalities. The country’s seven-day case average stood at 12,485, down from the peak of 93,617 in mid-September. The active case count stood at 172,000 (1.6% of the total cases).
In case count, India stood at second place in the world. With 26.5 million cases, the US tops of the list. India’s per million cases were at 7,739, as compared with the US’s 79,832, according to Worldometers.
“We have now reached a very low level of transmission of the infection; technically, the epidemic is over and now we are in an endemic phase (where an infection persists at a low level in a population),” said Dr T Jacob John, former head of the department of virology at Christian Medical College-Vellore.
Kerala, where it all started, still faces several challenges.
On Friday, Kerala accounted for 48% of the new 13,064 cases India recorded on the day. The state’s seven-day average of cases is 5,764, 46.2% of the national average.
“Kerala is by no means a success story, but I won’t call it a failure too. In the state, the real epidemic started when people started arriving from other states and the Middle East. There were telltale signs to community spread, but many ignored it. The rest of the story is a slow and steady spread of the epidemic,” said G Pramod Kumar, a former senior advisor to the United National Development Programme.
Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, however, put up a brave face, saying the state did whatever it could. “Ups and downs are nature of the pandemic. Even some of the developed countries are still struggling with second and third phase of the pandemic,” he said in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday.