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India's Battle Against COVID 19

Posted on : 15-04-2020 | Back | Print
India, with a population of 1.3 Billion, is one of the most populated country in the World. While the Coronavirus cases keep increasing rapidly in the world (Number), the cases in India have been restricted under 10,000 as of now despite the first case being reported on 30 January 2020, that is a day before the first case was reported in Italy, was not a matter of coincidence but a matter of intricate planning and proper implementation. The efforts undertaken by the Government of India can be broadly categorized into three sets of points:

1. Measures taken to reduce the contagion rate of COVID 19

India started flight-screening systems well before the incidence of any COVID cases in India, that is from 17 January. Graded travel restrictions were imposed from mid-January upto March 11, when WHO finally declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic. Measures were taken to propagate social distancing, including gradual stoppage of international flights and suspension of visas, from March 11. On 19 March 2020, Prime Minister of India in his address to the Nation gave a clarion call for People’s Curfew on 22nd March 2020 where by people of India has to observe self-restraint and stay indoors from 7 Am to 9 PM. This was religiously followed. As the disease was spreading at an alarming rate globally a full-nationwide lockdown was declared from the night of March 24.

India started screening before even phase-1 of the infection in India, well before any European Country. India started partial lockdown within 52 days of the first case, when India had only 451 active cases and moved to total lockdown on the 55th day of the outbreak in India, with only around 600 confirmed cases. It is to be noted that other countries have undertaken full lockdowns after cases rose beyond several thousands.

The lockdown was imperative, humongous and unprecedented. For instance stoppage of over 13,000 railway passenger services a day, for the first time in India’s history as a Republic. India stopped all flight services, most public transport and so on. Even WHO acknowledged that India’s public health responses were proactive, pre-emptive and graded. All the political parties and state Government have enforced the lockdown.

The time that the Government got during the lockdown was used to tremendously upgrade the medical capacity and preparedness. In this time India readied 520 dedicated COVID hospitals, hundreds of thousands of isolation beds and thousands of ICU beds. 2500 Railway carriages have been converted into 40,000 extra isolation beds. India has Increased the production and procurement of essential PPE sets, ventilators and testing equipment. India’s private sector is being fully involved in the quest to make affordable local alternatives. 32 Indian companies, when compared to none in the year’s beginning, have started work to produce PPE sets. India have ensured a six-fold increase in supply of oxygen cylinders for medical purposes since February 1, 2020; and Expanded production of pharmaceutical supplies, from anti-pyretic tablets to Hydroxychloroquine, to meet domestic needs and start supplying the world. India scaled up its testing capacity tremendously that is from one laboratory in January 2020, to 223 labs nationwide (157 public labs; 66 private); with over 115,000 samples tested. India is developing indigenous testing kits to meet escalated demand for more liberalized testing. India has developed the necessary capacity to use the data generated from testing in GIS-based programs to enhance surveillance, and upgraded medical support skills through public-private partnership. Advisories about the disease and mitigation measures have gone out to the people in India and around the world by using social media extensively.

The lockdown has reduced the reproductive rate of the virus tremendously in India. Scientific estimates suggest that while normally the reproductive rate would have been 2.5 people per day, the lockdown, has reduce social exposure by over 75%, leading to an infection rate of around 0.625 persons per day. Looking at the contagious nature of COVID 19 without lockdown the total cases in India would have reached around 820,000 by April 15. With the lockdown, India has around 9240 cases currently.

India will continue to focus on ‘over-preparedness’ at the district level; maintaining surveillance, contact tracing and patient management; enhancing the supply of isolation beds, ICU beds, ventillators and PPE sets; and increasing availability of dedicated hospital space and training.

2. Measures to mitigate the socio-economic costs of the lockdown

India is a large country with a huge population. Lockdown was difficult and costed socially and economically. Despite assurances from State Governments and the Central Government, reverse migration from cities, especially in parts of north and west India, could not be stopped. This started several days after the lockdown was initiated. In response, nearly 28,000 relief camps and shelters have been set up, with relief being provided by State Governments to 1.25 million people. Industry and NGOs have been involved too. A further 36,000 people are being provided shelter by them. Nationwide, 20,000 food camps are being run, with upto 7.5 million people being fed every day.

Management of the lockdown and its after effects of are monitored minutely by the Prime Minister personally regularly. There is a continuous process of engagement with Chief Ministers, and below that, with State Health Ministers. A Group of Ministers has been constituted to review and monitor the contagion and responses there off. A Committee of Secretaries is coordinating the responses nationwide. Eleven Empowered Groups have been set up for an integrated and inclusive all-of-Government response, bring on board civil society wherever feasible. A National Task Force of eminent public health and medical experts has been set up to guide the national strategy.

In terms of mitigation the Prime Minister’s Garib Kalyan (Welfare of the Poor) Package sets out US$ 22 Billion to alleviate the situation of the poor and vulnerable, including farmers and labourers. This includes insurance for 220,000 health care workers (operationalized since 30 March). Food relief measures are being implemented, to provide free foodgrain and lentils for 3 months to 800 million people—delivery. It has already started and is scheduled to be completed within April. LPG cylinders will be provided to 80 million poor households. Delivery is underway. Funds are being transferred to poor senior citizens, differently-abled people, and to indigent widows by direct cash transfer schemes.

The nation has responded positively to the lockdown, recognizing the compulsions and the challenge before India, which can be seen by the wide usage of masks.

3. Fighting COVID 19 at the International Level.

India understands well that COVID 19 is an international issue and needs concerted effort on part of every stakeholder. India has set up a COVID Cell in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to respond to every Indian Diaspora outside India. MEA has coordinated inward and outward evacuations on a massive scale. MEA is monitoring the condition of the stranded Indians regularly.

India has been sensitive to the problems faced by large number of foreign guests stranded in various parts of India. Many State Governments have ensured that in most cases, these stranded people can stay in their hospitals or lodges free of cost, and get simple cooked meals.

At the extraordinary SAARC leaders’ Summit over videoconference on 15 March 2020, Indian Prime Minister set out a series of measures to fight COVID 19 together while also committing upto US$ 10 mn towards health assistance. India has delivered medical supplies and assistance to Maldives, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan, and is in the process of preparing packages of medicine and other needed commodities for Nepal and Afghanistan. India has also undertaken to provide medical commodities to Myanmar, Seychelles, Mauritius and Kuwait (in our extended neighborhood), but also to Italy, Iran and China at the height of the crisis.

India being a major and responsible provider of pharmaceutical products to the world, on April 6, have cleared commercial and aid supplies of key pharma products not only to partners like the US, Spain and Brazil, but also to another 25 countries in our neighborhood, in Africa and in Latin America and the Caribbean. In future too, India will examine all requests for such supplies on a case by case basis.

India is committed to the larger international effort to find both a vaccine and to improve treatment protocols. India is ready to contribute to research in the quest for a vaccine; to make any such candidate vaccines at mass scale and at affordable price points; as well as in the production of affordable medicines to treat the disease. India is ready to work for suitably upgrading the international organizations to help humanity address future global challenges better than this pandemic has been handled.

India strongly appreciates the effort put by the Health workers in fighting COVID 19. People responded enthusiastically to Prime Minister’s call to demonstrate appreciation to health workers, and to lighting lamps of hope.

India will take all necessary measures, recognizing the unique vulnerabilities like large and diverse population, and in a manner that protects and preserves India’s democratic tradition and institutions, while securing the public health of the greatest number of its citizens. At the same time, India remains fully aware of the shared nature of this global challenge and its responsibility in the fight of humanity against COVID 19.

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