The bird flu is no good news but India seems to be putting to good use the lessons learnt during the COVID pandemic
The new decade has not begun on a good note for India. Anyone who followed what the health experts and virologists had been predicting about the path the pandemic would take must have been mentally prepared for the fact that the Coronavirus would continue to haunt humanity at least till the winter of 2021. However, with the start of a new year and in spite of a new, mutated strain of the Coronavirus wreaking havoc which made even the British Prime Minister cancel his India visit, people had hoped to put the nightmarish experience of 2020 behind them. But now New Delhi has another, emerging worry on its hands. At least four States — Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala and Rajasthan — have reported confirmed bird flu cases. Thankfully, already in fighting mode due to the pandemic, the Government sounded an alert with speed and the health authorities have stepped up efforts to contain the spread of the flu’s H5N8 strain. Karnataka and Tamil Nadu too are on their toes as thousands of ducks have died in the neighbouring Kerala. Similarly, Haryana, where over four lakh poultry birds perished at Panchkula farms in the past 10 days, and Jammu and Kashmir are alert and taking evasive action. Though there have been no reported cases of transmission to humans despite the disease being zoonotic, health authorities are not taking any chances as the avian flu’s mortality rate is 30-50 per cent as against the casualty rate of COVID-19, which is pegged at 0.31 per cent. But even if the nation is able to avoid human infections, the avian flu will be a body blow to the domestic poultry and meat industry as bird flu viruses can infect both birds and animals. As it is, the poultry industry suffered the most on account of rumours during the pandemic and chicken sales in India dipped to over 50 per cent in 2020 and the prices fell by 70 per cent. The sales had started to pick up only towards the end of the year as COVID fatigue set in.
Now, the fresh outbreak will sound the death knell not just for thousands of birds; it will make it difficult for the industry to survive. We are already seeing its effects as the slaughter, sale, purchase and export of any poultry birds, fish and related products have been banned in Kangra district, marked as the epicentre of the infection in Himachal. In Kerala, around 24,000 birds, mostly ducks, were culled and more States are expected to follow suit. But one good thing is that India has learnt many vital lessons from the COVID outbreak and the Government and health authorities are now putting these to good use. As many as 12 epicentres in the affected States have been identified and the Centre has issued an advisory apart from setting up a control room in Delhi. In Indore, the health department has begun door-to-door medical check-ups of people living in areas where hundreds of crows were found dead. Such quick, coordinated and concerted action by all stakeholders, including the Centre and States, would have been unthinkable a year ago. Yes, the pandemic did ruin our economy and resulted in major socio-economic trauma but every dark cloud has a silver lining. And the bright side for India is a ramped-up healthcare infrastructure, lessons in speedy response to a health emergency, quick identification of hotspots, testing, quarantining and evasive action.
Source: The Pioneer