• What is COVID-19?

    According to the World Health Organisation, COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans.  In humans, coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections such as the common cold as well as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The most recently discovered coronavirus causes COVID-19.  This new virus and disease were unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.

  • How did COVID-19 originate?

    At present the source of COVID-19 has not been identified.  Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses in humans and circulate amongst animals.  The initial cases of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China had interactions with seafood and the animal markets suggesting that the virus possibly emerged from an animal source. 

  • What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

    As per current information provided by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, symptoms include fever, dry cough, and in severe cases difficulty breathing.  If you develop symptoms please contact your nearest health care facility, or call the government helpline number +91-11-23978046.

  • Who is at risk of developing severe symptoms of COVID-19?

    As per current information the World Health Organisation finds that older persons and persons with pre-existing medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, cancer or diabetes) appear to develop serious illness more often than others.

  • How does COVID-19 spread?

    People can catch COVID-19 from others who have the virus. The disease can spread from person to person through water droplets from the nose or mouth.  These droplets spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales. People can catch COVID-19 if they breathe in infected droplets. Further, these droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person. Other people then catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth.

    Since COVID-19 is spread from person-to-person, organisations such as the Center for Disease Control have recommended patients be isolated in their homes or hospitals until they are no longer a risk to other people.  Further, it has suggested that person-to-person contact should be reduced in general to prevent the spread of the disease by asymptomatic persons.

  • How long is the incubation period for COVID-19?

    The incubation period refers to the time between catching the virus and beginning to have symptoms of the disease.  Most estimates of the incubation period for COVID-19 range from 1-14 days, most commonly around five days.

  • When can a person get tested?

    The conditions under which a person is eligible for testing in India are: (i) a person who has undertaken international travel may get tested if they become symptomatic within 14 days of such travel, (ii) person who has come in contact with a person who has tested positive for a virus may get tested if they become symptomatic, and (iii) health care workers that are managing respiratory illnesses may get tested if they develop symptoms.

  • How many testing centres does India have?

    As of June 1, there are 472 government testing centres for analysing samples of COVID-19.  Further, there were 204 private labs offering testing in 20 states.  These states are Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Puducherry, Bihar, Delhi, Maharashtra, Kerala, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Karnataka, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, and Gujarat.

  • What is the cost of getting a test?

    In government hospitals and clinics, tests will be conducted free of cost.  In the case of private labs and hospitals, the cost of testing may not exceed Rs 4,500.  However, for persons belonging to economically weaker sections and those covered under the Ayushman Bharat scheme the test will be free of cost in both public and private clinics.

  • Is there a cure for COVID-19?

    According to the World Health Organisation, there is no evidence that current medicine can prevent or cure the disease. Further, there is no vaccine or specific antiviral medicine to prevent or treat COVID-19. However, those affected should receive care to relieve symptoms. People with serious illness should be hospitalized. Most patients recover when given supportive care.  Possible vaccines and some specific drug treatments are under investigation. They are being tested through clinical trials.

  • When is a disease labelled as a pandemic?

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the spread of COVID-19 to be a global pandemic on March 11, 2020.  WHO defines a pandemic as the worldwide spread of a new disease for which most people do not have immunity.

  • What are the various stages of the spread of the pandemic?

    There are four stages in the spread of COVID-19:

    Stage 1: All cases are imported from affected countries by persons who have travelled abroad.  There is no local origin or spread of the disease.

    Stage 2: At this stage local transmission of the disease takes place.  This means that persons who have come in contact with another individual who got the disease abroad, have tested positive for the virus. The original source of the local transmission is known and can be located.

    Stage 3: This stage involves community transmission where the source of the infection is not known.  This stage sees a steep increase in the number of cases as the source of the disease cannot be located and isolated. Countries such as the US and Italy are in this stage of the pandemic.

    Stage 4:  In this stage there are many major clusters of disease as community transmission becomes more uncontrollable.  So far, only China has experienced stage 4.

  • What is the regulatory framework in India to deal with pandemics?

    As per the Constitution, the power to make laws on health comes under the purview of the states.  However, the centre also provides financial and administrative support with regard to disease control and prevention.  There are two central level Acts under which pandemics may be addressed.  These are: (i) the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, which provides for the prevention of the spread of dangerous epidemic diseases, and (ii) the Disaster Management Act, 2005 which provides for the effective management of disasters.

    The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is at the forefront of efforts regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.  It has two central level bodies that respond to disease outbreaks and epidemics: the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme, and the National Centre for Disease Control.  Further, the Indian Council for Medical Research is the main central level medical research body.  During the COVID-19 pandemic it has been setting guidelines for hospitals on how to deal with the spread of the virus.

    Other ministries such as the Ministry of Home Affairs are also involved in disaster management and relief efforts during this pandemic.

  • What has India’s response been to the pandemic?

    To combat the rapid spread of COVID-19, the central government instituted a 21-day lockdown starting March 24, 2020.  This lockdown was extended until May 3, 2020 and then until May 18, 2020, with certain relaxations.  Activities that remain prohibited in the extended lockdown include:

    • Travel and movement: Passenger movement by: (i) air (except for medical and security purposes), (ii) trains (except for security purposes), (iii) inter-state buses (unless permitted by central government), and (iv) metro, remains prohibited.  Inter-state movement of individuals is also prohibited except for medical reasons or if permitted by the central government.  Intra-state movement of persons for all non-essential activities will remain prohibited between 7pm and 7am.
    • Education:  All educational institutions such as schools and colleges will remain closed except for online learning.
    • Hospitality services and recreational activities:  All hospitality services such as hotels will remain closed except those being used as quarantine facilities, or those housing persons such as healthcare workers, police, or stranded persons.  Further, recreational facilities such as cinemas, malls, gyms, and bars will remain closed.
    • Religious gatherings:  All religious spaces will remain closed and congregation for religious purposes will remain prohibited.

    The revised guidelines for the lockdown include risk-profiling of districts into red, green and orange zones, with red zones having the highest level of additional restrictions and green zones having the least. For a district to move from a red zone to an orange zone, or from an orange zone to a green zone, it must have no new cases for 21 days.  Certain areas within red and orange zones will be identified as containment zones.  These zones may include areas such as residential colonies, or municipal wards.  Movement of persons in or out of containment zones will be prohibited except for medical emergencies and essential goods.

    The central government has also announced a relief package to assist the poor in dealing with COVID-19.  The package includes: (i) insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh per healthcare worker working against COVID-19, (ii) 5kg wheat or rice, and 1kg pulses for three months for poor persons, and (iii) a lump sum of Rs 1,000 to poor senior citizens, widows, and disabled persons. 

    Further, a national fund has been set up to deal with emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic.  The public charitable trust known as the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund) will provide relief to those affected by COVID-19.  The trust is chaired by the Prime Minister and includes members such as the Defence Minister, Home Minister, and Finance Minister.

  • What is the likelihood of death if a person has contracted COVID-19?

    The proportion of people infected by COVID-19 that die is between 0.5% and 1%.  However, it is 0.01% in persons under 20 years old, and up to 8% in persons over 80 years old. The proportion of people who demonstrate symptoms that die is between 0.25% and 4%Approximately 8% of those infected are hospitalised. However, the hospitalisation rate is about 2% for persons under 50 years old, and up to 44% for persons over 80 years old. The proportion of people who are hospitalised that die is at 12%.  However, it is 4% in persons under 50 years old, 20% for persons over 80 years old, and 50% for those needing invasive ventilation.

Sources: Information collected from the websites of WHO, CDC, MoHWF, and from various central and state government notifications.