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PREPARING FOR THE WORST

Laxmi Meena, 37, an auxiliary midwife nurse (ANM) in Bandri village of Jaisalmer district in Rajasthan, has never tackled infectious diseases before; all her training has been in vaccinations and maternal care. She currently has 20 families, or 300 people, under her care. But ever since news of a cluster outbreak of COVID-19 at the BBM Hospital in Bhilwara 600-odd kilometres away broke out, she is spending more time with those in the high-risk category—her oldest patient being Dadi, 73. Asked if she is ready for the challenge of COVID-19, Meena’s simple response is—“I am ready to do my part when the time comes.”

That time may not be far. India, the second most populated country in the world, had officially reported 1,637 cases and 38 deaths till April 1. That may seem a tiny fraction of the 855,000 cases and 42,044 deaths reported worldwide, but we have so far also had among the lowest rates of testing in the world. Four weeks into the crisis, India’s rate of testing is still 32 per million (38,442 overall for its population of 1.3 billion) compared to upward of 1,000 per million other countries are testing.

As early as February 27, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), in a report titled ‘Prudent public health intervention strategies to control the coronavirus disease 2019 transmission in India’, had used a mathematical model to predict 1.5 million symptomatic cases in Delhi, with roughly 500,000 each in Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru in a best-case scenario. This, it said, would peak over 200 days from the beginning of February. The worst-case prediction was more dire, pegging cases in Delhi at 10 million and in Mumbai at 4 million, with

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