India’s graded response has kept corona crisis in control

By Shatrughna Sinha

Deputy Consul General of India in New York

         As we move to the second phase of the lockdown in India announced on April 14, 2020 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it is time to take a look at the enormous effort currently underway in India to control the spread of the coronavirus.  The unity of purpose shown by the different agencies of the central government along with all the state governments is exemplary. The fact that India has been able to keep the number of infections under 15,000 and deaths under 500 as of April 17 can be considered a successful effort. The challenges faced by India, a country of 1.3 billion people, are unique and therefore the approach required to handle the coronavirus crisis would also be new and unprecedented.

If we look at India’s experience of combating the spread of this virus so far, “Prepare, but don’t panic” has been our guiding mantra. We were careful to not underestimate the problem, but also avoided knee-jerk reactions. We have tried to take proactive steps, including a graded response mechanism. We started screening entry into India from mid-January itself, while also gradually increasing restrictions on travel. The step-by-step approach has helped avoid panic. We have increased our public awareness campaigns on TV, print and social media. We have made special efforts to reach out to vulnerable groups. We have worked to quickly ramp up capacity in our system including through training our medical staff and increasing diagnostic capabilities across the country.

Prime Minister Modi has led a pandemic response that is historic in its ambition and complexity. India has used its technological prowess and connectivity to contain the spread of the virus. Aarogya Setu, India’s coronavirus contact tracing app, became the world’s fastest growing mobile app, registering over 50 million users by April 14, within 13 days of its launch. Fortunately, the administrative structure within India is also well-suited to controlling the infectious diseases like coronavirus. Health being state subject, states have considerable autonomy in dealing with the challenge. The district authorities have also used local government structures effectively in fighting the spread of the deadly virus.

This success would not be possible without the national resolve to confront this challenge as one nation and one people. The central government has held wide consultations across the political spectrum and the response to the crisis has also been deliberated upon in Parliament.  PM Modi has also held regular consultations with Chief Ministers and led the efforts at the highest political and executive level. A Group of Ministers has been assigned to supervise the Committee of Secretaries and Empowered Groups which are at the forefront. Cabinet Secretary and Health Secretary are coordinating day-to-day operations in real-time and ensuring a system-wide response that is harmonized across all of India’s 728 districts. With the information available to the world since early January both in the public domain and authoritative international sources, India has taken proactive measures. On balance, our effort has ensured we stay ahead of the curve, as this crisis evolved. Some of the early measures which had been put in place by India are:

* Our flight-screening systems started from January 17, a full 13 days before the first case was detected in India (on January 30);

* Visa and travel restrictions were imposed on foreign nationals on February 5.

* Incoming passengers were placed under daily surveillance through the Integrated Disease Surveillance Program (IDSP) Network and monitored through a national online portal. The portal aggregates data and maintains a log of all community contacts of positive cases. 621,000 passengers were monitored and not a single positive case was able to mix with the general population.

* Screening and graded travel restrictions, which were increased step by step from mid-January up to March 11, when WHO finally declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic;

* Measures to propagate social distancing, including graded stoppage of international flights and suspension of visas, from March 11.

* And from March 22, we began to phase-in lockdowns, culminating in a full-nationwide lockdown from the night of March 24.

This shows that crisis management system in India had started operating much in advance at its full capacity.  As a result, cases of infection in India are much lower than the global incidence rate. 325 districts in India are coronavirus free.  There is no evidence of “community” transmission.

         A key strategy in containing the spread of the virus has been the nationwide lockdown imposed on March 25. It was intended to break the transmission through social distancing and met with unprecedented and voluntary nationwide response. The support extended by the people to the lockdown has been unique. As a result, we are already witnessing the flattening of the COVID-19 curve in India.  With a growth rate of 7.1% on April 17, 2020, the cases of infection are doubling in as many as 10 days (please see the graph). Without the lockdown, the pandemic would have taken a devastating course.

         Indian medical fraternity has risen to the challenge. A network of labs across the country has been set up to facilitate early and timely sample testing. 223 labs are operational. State Nodal Officers have been appointed and specific labs have been designated for States. A national Hospital preparedness effort is underway to ensure availability of beds. Health facilities of the Defense, Labor, Railways, Home (paramilitary forces) and Steel Ministries and other Central and State government Institutions can be enlisted to augment hospital capacity if required. Currently 1,71,415 isolation beds have been made available by the government. Another 24,383 beds are available through Army, Para-Military forces, Railways and Labour Ministries. Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), ventilators, essential drugs and other consumables are also being stockpiled and buffer stocks are being constantly monitored. Medical and paramedical personnel and Rapid Response Teams nationwide are receiving orientation on infection prevention, clinical management and protocols. Technology is also being used to train the ground level health workers in remote areas.

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam

         India has also contributed generously to the global efforts to fight the coronavirus menace.  Prime Minister Modi has led the SAARC initiative and is also actively involved in G-20 wide coordination. The Ministry of External Affairs has created a COVID cell and is actively coordinating the global response. It is monitoring the condition of stranded Indians on a regular basis. A global procurement and supply chain support effort has been launched to enhance our medical preparedness. More than 4,000 requests from 63 countries/regions for medicines like paracetamol have been cleared on humanitarian grounds. Indian companies have also supplied hydroxychloroquine to the US. India has also provided assistance to countries like Dominican Republic, Maldives and Mauritius. India’s efforts are also a symbol of our solidarity towards all the countries who require these medicines during this hour of need.

Indian Embassy in Washington and Consulates in five cities including New York are actively involved in supporting the members of Indian community who are facing difficulty due to the lockdown in India and suspension of flights. The Consulate in New York has created a special facility in its Pramit web application for addressing the needs of people (www.indiainnewyork.gov.in). We have been able to assist in a wide range of situations including support for accommodation, food, medicines and even personal counseling, with valuable support from community organizations. As people are doing their bit by staying at home, we are doing our bit by taking our programming and events directly to their homes by innovative use of social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter.

India is a major source of pharmaceuticals. We are committed to acting responsibly during this crisis. There is no outright ban on exports of critical drugs and requests are being examined and responded to appropriately. Several consignments of critical medicines have been cleared and dispatched to the United States. Cooperation between Indian and US scientific organizations is also going ahead on how to mitigate and combat the virus. This crisis has strengthened our bonds as we foresee much greater India-US strategic and economic cooperation in a post-COVID world.

Image courtesy of thesatimes |

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