China, Italy, Spain, South Korea and Iran have all been hard hit by the COVID-19 virus. This is well known.
There are two countries, India and the US, that are likely to become the new epicenters of the epidemic for very different reasons.
Here is why.
India refuses to test people on a largescale despite serious threat to public health.
So far, a mere 11,500 people have been tested across the country with a population of 1.2 billion. The reason is money. It does not want to spend money on people's well-being.
Indians returning from abroad are being quarantined in squalid conditions that are likely to spread the disease even if they were completely free of infection.
Many Indians continue to rely on drinking cow urine and bathing their bodies in cow dung broth as protection against infection!
Add to that the hundreds of millions of people living in absolute squalor in India and you have a perfect recipe for disaster.
At the other end of the scale, the US with the world’s highest GDP, does not have enough face masks and other protective gear for health workers.
With a population of 330 million, the US has tested less than 60,000 people so far, according to Admiral Brett Giroir, member of the White House Coronavirus task force.
The epidemic has already spread to each of its 50 states.
“While more than 7,000 US cases had been identified as of Wednesday [March 18], as many as 96 million people could be infected in coming months, and 480,000 could die,” according to a projection prepared for the American Hospital Association by Dr James Lawler, an infectious disease expert at the University of Nebraska Medical Centre.
Other studies estimate the US death toll could be as high as 2.2 million.
The new research, led by British epidemiologist Dr. Neil Ferguson and published on March 16 by the Imperial College of London, shows that merely acting to slow rather than completely stop the spread of COVID-19 would “still likely result in hundreds of thousands of deaths and health systems (most notably intensive care units) being overwhelmed many times over.”
“For countries able to achieve it, this leaves suppression as the preferred policy option,” the British researchers wrote.
“In the UK and US context, suppression will minimally require a combination of social distancing of the entire population, home isolation of cases, and household quarantine of their family members. This may need to be supplemented by school and university closures.”
Successful suppression of the virus could take much time, the researchers noted—“potentially 18 months or more.”
Despite the study’s alarming findings that were shared with the White House’s coronavirus task force several days earlier, the New York Times reported on March 16 that President Donald Trump was still downplaying the threat posed by the COVID-19 outbreak.
At a White House press conference the same day, Trump still falsely claimed that “nobody ever thought about” the coronavirus threat a month ago.
The CNN rubbished Trump’s claim pointing out that “the US had its first confirmed case in January.”
Health experts all agree that the US is ill-equipped for the coming medical emergency.
“We are not prepared, nor is any place prepared for a Wuhan-like outbreak,” said Dr. Eric Toner of Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, in an interview with National Public Radio.
“And we would see the same sort of bad outcomes that they saw in Wuhan – with a very high case fatality rate, due largely to people not being able to access the needed intensive care.”
Today, China reported no new cases of infections in Wuhan.
In the US, there is huge shortage of ventilators, a crucial machine to help critically ill patients breathe properly.
New York City, for example, has barely one sixth of the ventilators it would need if the disease spreads.
There is no certainty it has not.
The city has already drafted laws to compel prisoners at Rikers Island jail to dig mass graves if there are huge casualties.
Will the prisoners comply? What if the epidemic breaks out in jails, a potential breeding ground for diseases?
The major problem is the US’ skewed priorities.
It spends miniscule amount on public health in comparison with what it spends on wars.
In contrast, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) budget is only $6.6 billion. And even this is under threat.
Since 911, the US has spent $6 trillion on wars and has killed tens of millions of people worldwide.
With acute hospital bed and ventilator shortages, the US will have to make some critical choices.
Will patients 80 years or older be left to die, as Italy has done, and save only those that are below the age of 50?