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Make data about spread of COVID-19 classified, Indian Medical Association asks government

The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has appealed to the Indian government to “classify” data about the ongoing coronavirus outbreak — which the World Health Organisation has declared a pandemic. Sharing data daily with a “clueless” public that does not know ‘what is expected out of them’ has created panic across the country, the association said in its press release dated March 10.

After eight new cases were reported yesterday, India has a total of 60 detected cases as of evening of March 11. These include foreigners and Indians. The Times of India today reported 70 positive cases. India yesterday took the unprecedented decision to suspend all visas — barring for select categories — until April 15, effectively sealing its borders for at least a month. Every person arriving from or have visited China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, France, Spain and Germany after February 15 will be quarantined for at least 14 days, the Centre has said.

IMA said hand-washing is a simple tool to fight community spread of the virus, and “is perhaps the only way to stop the corona epidemic”. One of the measures it recommended was to exercise “self-restraint”. “Do not post unconfirmed negative messages and pseudoscientific dogmas”, the doctors’ association warned.

“Indian press and visual media have a big role in de-escalating the panic. Their restraint and objectivity will save the day. Unbridled social media is both an asset and liability. However, the Central Government has adequate powers to curtail disinformation and should use the same judiciously.” — IMA

The association said the coronavirus pandemic is ‘by no means” a situation that India has not faced before. SARS 1, swine flu, Nipah etc were outbreaks of the same scale and “considerable experience tells us that awareness, self-precautions, contact tracing, and self-isolation are the public health measures required,” IMA said.

The Health Ministry has also advised all states and Union territories to invoke Section 2 of Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, which will enable them to enforce advisories as and when needed. The section empowers state government to take special measures and to prescribe regulations to control the outbreak of a dangerous epidemic disease.

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