As the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the world, India remains one of the least-affected countries – in terms of the number of infected cases as well as the number of deaths.
With over 36,000 deaths, the United States currently tops the list of worst-affected countries by the Wuhan virus outbreak, followed by countries like Italy, Spain, and France, where several thousands have died due to the complications resulting from the viral infection.
In India, the COVID-19 related death toll currently stands at 488, which is among the lowest in the world. While new cases are being diagnosed on a daily basis, the rate at which people are getting infected and the number of fatalities caused by the infection is only a fraction of what we see in countries like the US, Italy, or Spain.
The Indian Puzzle
To the casual observer, India’s infection rate and fatality rate with respect to the coronavirus pandemic might seem utterly puzzling.
India is home to 1.2 billion people and a section of its population lives in densely populated slums. A large section of the Indian population has diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. India’s healthcare infrastructure is not nearly as extensive or efficient as that of the US or any other developed country for that matter.
So, by all accounts, India should have been one of the worst affected countries by the coronavirus outbreak. Yet it remains one of the least-affected countries, along with Japan and Portugal.
As incredible as it might sound, India is actually in an advantageous position – compared to most other countries when it comes to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic – due to the following reasons.
This is perhaps the most important reason why India has one of the lowest coronavirus infection and mortality rates in the world as of now.
The Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine – named after the bacteriologists Albert Calmette and Camille Guerin – was developed in 1908 to inoculate people against tuberculosis.
While the BCG vaccine is meant to protect people against tuberculosis, which is caused by a type of bacteria, it has certain off-target effects, which can boost your immune response to autoimmune disorders and a wide range of other diseases.
So far, the infection rate and mortality rate associated with COVID-19 pandemic has been significantly lower in countries with a universal BCG vaccination policy compared to countries that do not have such an immunization program. This is why experts believe that the BCG vaccine might reduce the risk of coronavirus infection to a certain extent.
India happens to be one of the few countries where a universal BCG vaccination policy is strictly implemented. It might explain why we have managed to handle the pandemic better than most other countries thus far.
Anti-malarial drugs like chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine have proven to be quite effective in treating the symptoms of coronavirus infection. Many doctors in the US say that the recovery rate among COVID-19 patients who have been treated with anti-malarial drugs has been quite remarkable.
In India, millions of people get infected malaria every year. As a result, the use of drugs like chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine has been quite common among large sections of the population. This could also be a reason why our country has not been affected by the pandemic as badly as many people predicted.
Indians are exposed to an extraordinarily wide variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites on a daily basis. As a result, we have developed strong base line immunity against many different types of pathogens. This is also one of the reasons why Indians seem to be less vulnerable to coronavirus infection compared to people from developed countries.
This is a key factor that many experts have pointed out as the reason for India’s low rate of COVID-19 infection and mortality. Data shows that coronavirus infection can be deadly for aged people, due to their weak immune system and the presence of underlying health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic respiratory disease, and heart disease.
This is why countries like the USA and Italy, which contain a large number of elderly people, have such a high mortality rate. In comparison, only 0.8% of Indian population is over the age of 80. So, we are less vulnerable compared to countries with a large share of elderly population.
Data shows that people-to-people transmission of the coronavirus tends to slow down under hot and humid conditions. So, the Indian summer might also be the reason for the relatively small number of COVID-19 infections and mortalities in the country.
Screening and Lockdown
The Indian government has been quite proactive in handling the coronavirus pandemic over the past month. On the 26th of February, the government imposed travel restrictions on passengers coming from China. On the 11th of March, the government not only expanded the restrictions, but also suspended all non-diplomatic and non-work visas to drastically reduce the number of international passengers coming to India.
In addition to that, the government also set up screening stations at all the major international airports across the country and started screening international passengers for coronavirus symptoms. Everyone who tested positive was quarantined for a period of 14 days. These measures prevented infected passengers from spreading the virus among the locals to a large extent.
On top of that, the 21-day lockdown, which has now been extended, has also played a key role in slowing down the spread of the virus outbreak in India. To their credit, the people of India also followed the government’s guidelines on social distancing and remained indoors for the most part.
COVID-19 Outbreak in India – Reasons to Remain Hopeful
On the whole, India has been relatively more successful than most other countries in containing the spread of the coronavirus. Barring a few places, there have been no cases of community transmission in the country. With two months of summer still ahead of us, we might be able to slow down the outbreak even further and flatten the curve successfully.