Lancet has cautioned India from presenting the coronavirus pandemic with a "too positive spin"

Guwahati: Famed medical journal Lancet has cautioned India from presenting the current situation in regards to the coronavirus pandemic with a “too positive spin”. The report titled, “COVID-19 in India: The dangers of false optimism”, cites the progress India has made since the lockdown that was announced in March and how there is a continued dramatic increase in the number of cases nationally.

The report says that the rapid rise in case numbers, along with continued relaxation of restrictions, has created an atmosphere of fatalism mixed with false optimism that undermines effective use of non-pharmaceutical interventions such as masks and physical distancing.

Lancet’s report also lauds India’s approach by referring to the WHO as it praised the nationwide lockdown. “During the lockdown period, tertiary care provision was increased, including access to specialist equipment such as ventilators. Testing numbers also increased quickly, with India being among the first to roll out innovations like pooled testing,” it said.

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But problems have sustained, the virus now has seeped in to rural areas where the health infrastructure is already stretched. “As the outbreak has spread from its initial foothold in cities to smaller urban areas and villages, pre-existing disparities in health-care provision have become increasingly relevant. Rural health infrastructure in India can be sparse, and some smaller private hospitals have reported equipment shortages, especially oxygen,” it added.

India has the expertise in medicine, public health, research, and manufacturing to lead the nation through the COVID-19 pandemic. “To capitalise on these attributes, the country’s leaders must respect scientific evidence, expert commentary, and academic freedom, and not provide false optimism,” Lancet said in a criticism directed at the government. Hope is important, and recognising successes is vital, especially during a pandemic, it added.

The epidemic in India is far from over, with a potentially huge burden of mortality and morbidity to come unless public health measures are used and adhered to. Without clear and honest communication of the risks of COVID-19 to the population, stemming the epidemic will be impossible.

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Lancet stated that based on news reports that hours before announcing the lockdown, the Prime Narendra Modi had urged owners and editors of India’s largest media organisations that it was important to tackle the spread of pessimism, negativity, and rumour.

This pressure to avoid negative news, and to offer reassurance, appears to have been felt by several professional scientific organisations in India.

Lancet has slammed ICMR, saying: “The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has been singled out by experts for straying from scientific evidence, appearing at worst politically motivated and at best overly optimistic.”

It has also pointed towards issues with COVID numbers. “Transparency of the data on COVID-19 cases and deaths, especially those underpinning the case fatality rate, has also been questioned, as detailed in a recent World Report. The Indian Government reports a case fatality rate of 1·8%, much lower than the reported rate in other countries, but it is difficult to know if the numbers are comparable” Lancet said.

(With inputs from The Quint)

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