- The coronavirus pandemic has infected at least 2.92 million people and killed 200,000 globally.
- Union Minister of Health, Dr Harsh Vardhan said that the focus largely is on actively tracing positive cases; and to do whatever it takes to successfully identify those infected.
As India puts up a resolute fight against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), Union minister for health and family welfare Harsh Vardhan, in a phone conversation with Hindustan Times, spoke about what lies ahead in the battle against the pandemic that has infected at least 2.92 million people and killed 200,000 globally. There will be no-let up in the fight, the minister said. Edited excerpts:
There is a sense that India has managed to flatten the curve as far as Covid-19 is concerned. What will be India’s strategy now?
The numbers say it all for us; as compared to other countries, we are in a better position. As for the strategy to manage the disease, it will not change. Just because things are getting better for us, it does not mean we will show laxity in our approach towards managing the situation. The strategy will continue to remain what it has been till now — to aggressively look within the community for all those who have been infected by the virus. Look for them, test them, isolate them, and treat them.
What are the key areas in managing Covid-19 that need focus?
Our focus largely is on actively tracing positive cases; and to do whatever it takes to successfully identify those infected. We have significantly increased our testing capacity, and are in the process of taking it to 100,000 tests in a day likely by May-end. This will help us reach out to maximum undetected cases. Logistics is not an issue at all for us as we are adequately prepared. Be it hospital beds to isolate people, ventilators for critically ill patients, personal protection gear for healthcare workers, N95 masks, medicines, oxygen supply etc., there is no shortage of anything. In fact, our preparations have been made keeping in mind the extreme situation that we could have landed in if certain measures were not taken. We are prepared to handle any situation in future also.
Will you continue with rapid testing given the inaccuracies in results?
The Indian Council of Medical Research is looking into the matter. It is currently in the process of studying what the problem has been, and will be validating the kits. The matter was not discussed in the group of ministers meeting as it is a technical issue that is handled by experts in the ICMR. It will be too premature to say anything right now; let them find out the cause, and then see what they advise.
What are the challenges that you face?
India is a huge country but we have drafted a comprehensive plan based on which we are constantly assessing the situation even till the block level. The zones have been segregated based on their risk factor; hotspots have been earmarked; and containment zones have been created to implement the containment plan. The centre is literally handholding the states to ensure all gaps are filled. Import of certain items was an issue so we built capacity to indigenously manufacture items such as personal protective equipment, masks, etc. and today we have more than 100 domestic manufacturers who have started production.
Are you ensuring there are no shortages of medicines or other essential supplies?
While lockdown and social distancing is an important measure in our fight against coronavirus disease, the government is working hard to ensure there is no shortage of any essential supplies, be it medicines or other items. There was an extensive review of the situation in the recent meeting of the group of ministers, and apart from talking about strengthening the contingency measures, it was also seen as a priority to ensure people did not face any inconvenience, and all essential supplies were available to them. There is no need to panic.
There is a lot of misinformation doing rounds regarding the disease because of which healthcare workers and Covid-19 survivors are being stigmatised. How do you counter that?
The only way to counter misinformation is by referring only to the source of information that the government is providing. We are making a lot of effort to disseminate authentic information to public; there are helpline numbers, email IDs, and fact check portals created specifically to answer queries from public, which should be made use of rather than consulting unconfirmed sources of information.