As feared, coronavirus has hit the Indian shores. The first case of COVID-19, as the WHO has described the pandemic, which has in its grip nearly 60 countries and already claimed over 3,000 lives, was detected in Delhi. The victim had flown in from Italy, the European nation most affected by the virus after China. The other patient was from Hyderabad who had travelled to Dubai recently. Notably, both patients came forward to report their symptoms which on being tested were found to be positive. Earlier, three people in Kerala were tested positive but after being hospitalised for a few days they had since been discharged. Both the new patients have been quarantined at their homes for the next two weeks. Even the crew of the Air India flight on which the Delhi patient had flown in has been asked to quarantine themselves at home for fourteen days. Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said that there was no need for panic, precautionary and screening operations were now being carried out at major airports and seaports. Should the epidemic persist, there could be a shortage of testing kits, masks, relevant medicines, etc., since these are in short supply even in China and several other countries. Indeed, China being the source of active pharmaceutical ingredients for a whole host of pharma companies globally, there are concerns about the run on fast shrinking supplies of medicines in a number of countries. In India a number of pharma companies are feeling the pinch due to the disruption in supplies of the basic materials which were sourced from China. WHO, on its part, has been doing a lot to caution people against contracting the virus. One of the first precautions that everyone can take without it costing a dime is to wash hands before eating. Another is not to cough or sneeze in proximity of others, and while coughing to keep a handkerchief in front of your mouth or cough into your forearm which would prevent the virus from transmitting to people near you. Public awareness is the key to prevention. Cough, mild fever, dizziness, etc. are supposed to be some of the symptoms of COVID- 19. As a people we cannot be careful enough to prevent its spread. In some ways, we can learn from China. The way it contained the virus once it became clear that its epicenter was Wuhan and that the most likely cause was the consumption of animal meat bought from the local market, it locked down the entire town. Regrettably, as per latest reports, the Delhi victim seems to have already infected a number of others who were in his close proximity. A number of schools in the capital too have been shut down till the threat passes. Meanwhile, it is now confirmed that the pandemic is set to shave off global growth by at least 0.5 per cent. The OECD countries have put out data to suggest that should the infection spread, it might knock off 1.5 per cent growth in the current year. OECD has also cut India’s growth by 110 basis points, estimating it to be 5.1 per cent in the next financial year. The SARS outbreak in 2003 was relatively easily contained. Due to the far more expanded role of China in the global economy in the intervening years, global slowdown is bound to be far more severe.
Though major economies are contemplating concerted action to boost sentiment, the options available are rather limited. On Monday, central banks in Japan, US, UK etc., undertook to take all possible steps to reverse the COVID-19-induced slowdown. Rate cuts remain a possible tool to boost liquidity in the system in the US, but given that interest rates in Japan are already at record lows there is not much it can do. Even in the US, Fed can most likely marginally cut the basic rate, though the US economy is in a rather good place with inflation under control and job growth and economic expansion proceeding apace. However, due to continuing trade war China and now the Covid-19 epidemic, a Fed rate cut would be a good signal not only for the US economy but for other major economies. Meanwhile, on Monday the rebound on the local bourses after steep fall in the previous six sessions was dampened in late trading following reports of coronavirus being confirmed by the Health Ministry. Indians need to be careful in keeping the infection as far away as possible by taking simple precautions, including staying away from public places and shunning homes and hospitals where the patients are quarantined as far as possible. It is the duty of every Indian to take minimum precautionary steps in order not to become a witting or an unwitting victim of this pandemic.