Quantum Leap

Why it is important for government to be transparent during a pandemic

Transparency should go beyond sharing basic data on infections and mortality and should cover all aspects, such as testing, diagnostics, prevention, treatment and research.

 |  Quantum Leap  |  2-minute read |   27-05-2020
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Maintaining secrecy during a health emergency is not good for any nation. In November 2002, an outbreak of a new kind of pneumonia, which was later given the name SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) occurred in China. Its earliest case was reported from Foshan in the Guangdong province in November 2002, but the information about a ‘deadly flu’ in the province appeared only in text messages and some news websites as late as February 8, 2003. Local officials had informed the provincial health bureau about the outbreak, and information reached the health ministry in Beijing thereafter. But nothing was revealed to the people or heath workers about the nature of the disease, its symptoms, prevention, treatment and more, till mid-February. By the time the World Health Organization (WHO) could alert the global community about it, the infection had spread to many countries.

main_harshvardhan_an_052720105524.jpgDaily press briefing of Covid-19 has now been curtailed, giving rise to speculation that things are not well. (Photo: ANI)

The timeline of the current pandemic, which originated in Wuhan, bears uncanny similarities with what happened in 2002- 03. Available evidence shows that there was a suppression of information and secrecy maintained this time too. This is why China is opposing any global investigation into how the infection travelled to the world from Wuhan.

Transparency is also critical as the pandemic progresses. It should go beyond sharing basic data on infections and mortality and should cover all aspects, such as testing, diagnostics, prevention, treatment and research. Addressing a health emergency requires coordination among several central and state agencies as well as international bodies. Even now, a cohesive picture needs to be presented by the Ministry of Health and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on both administrative as well as scientific aspects of the pandemic. All the necessary information should be put out in the public domain for scrutiny by the media and independent experts. After the fiasco about testing kits from China, the daily press briefing of Covid-19 has been curtailed and ICMR scientists are not present during press meets, giving rise to speculation that things are not well. Even basic data is not being shared regularly. This does not augur well for the fight against Coronavirus. Official agencies should not shy away from uncomfortable questions, which are inevitable in a time like this. Let’s be open about it and face the challenge.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Making sense of Covid-19 in India

Writer

Dinesh C Sharma Dinesh C Sharma @dineshcsharma

Journalist, columnist and author based in New Delhi.

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