India's Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
India, a country of 1.3 billion, has been able to limit the number of deaths to less than 200 in the 10 weeks since the first COVID-19 case was detected. Reported cases in India are much lower than the global incidence rate. The pandemic has also been contained geographically with negligible “community” transmission.
1. The whole country has been placed under a lockdown since March 25 for 21 days. The lockdown, which has met an unprecedented and voluntary nationwide response, is meant to break the transmission through social distancing. Prior to the lockdown, on March 19, the nation had placed itself under a “Janata” or people’s curfew. The extent of the lockdown and the compliance it has received are unique.
2. It was an India specific crisis response measure tailored to Indian conditions and has demonstrated results. Government, central and states, have used this period to trace and isolate positive cases and their contacts. The graph of COVID 19 cases has “flattened.” Cases are doubling in a little under 4 days. Slide 1 demonstrates the projections of the trajectories of pandemic had there been no lockdown or only a partial lockdown. The facts speak for themselves.
3. This trajectory would have been even “flatter” had it not been for the cluster of infections arising from the Tablighi Jamat congregation in New Delhi. The transmission by this group caused the rate of doubling of cases to speed up to 3.6 days whereas infections would have doubled every 5.4 days without this factor.
4. The lockdown was not the beginning but the logical continuation of a strategy. Surveillance at points of entry (airports, major and minor ports, land borders) was initiated on January 17, 2020. Visa and travel restrictions were imposed on foreign nationals on February 5. All visas were suspended on March 11 and incoming flights were suspended from March 19. 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 in this universe has been able to mix with the general population.
5. The lockdown is accompanied by a nationwide effort to enhance medical preparedness. 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.
6. A national Hospital preparedness effort is underway to ensure availability of beds. (slide 6 may be seen for figures of isolation beds, critical care beds and ventilators available in dedicated COVID hospitals). Health facilities of the Defence, Labour, Railways, Home (para military forces) and Steel Ministries and other Central and State government Institutions can be enlisted to augment hospital capacity if required.
7. Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), ventilators, essential drugs and other consumables are being stockpiled and buffer stocks are being constantly monitored.
8. Guidelines on every aspect of COVID-19 management have been widely disseminated. Medical and paramedical personnel and Rapid Response Teams nationwide are receiving orientation on infection prevention, clinical management and protocols etc. Video-conferences are held on alternate days between central and state authorities to review status.
9. A massive contact tracing and surveillance operation is continuing on a nationwide scale to pre-empt transmission.
10. A public health communication exercise has been in operation since January. Social media platforms and webpages of Government are pushing out information about basic preventive steps. TV & Radio channels were mobilized and an advertisement campaign launched.
MIGRATION OF WORKERS
11. The lockdown produced a number of challenges. A movement of migrant labour occurred during the initial period of the lockdown. A national effort was launched to mitigate the hardship faced by them. Transport was mobilized to safely move them to their home states. A detailed protocol was evolved to manage the migrants, and guidelines were issued to ensure essential supplies, rations and food packets for them. Relief camps providing food and shelter were organised on an unprecedented scale within days. This massive administrative effort across a number of states (see slide 10) established more than 27,000 camps and shelters housing 1.25 million individuals. An additional 360,000 workers have been provided shelter by industry. 7.5 million individuals are being fed through this network of camps and shelters plus another 19,460 food camps/distribution points. The public health aspect of this movement has not been neglected and the camps have been linked to a network of quarantine facilities, testing laboratories etc.
12. The nationwide response to assist these workers and their families highlighted the popular understanding of the rationale behind the lockdown.
13. Details of Prime Ministers Garib Kalyan Package (PMGKP) launched to mitigate the hardships being faced by the poor and disadvantaged may be seen in slides 12-17. It attempts to create a security net particularly for the disadvantaged sections of society that are worst affected in such situations. Senior citizens, widows, the physically challenged, women, workers and others who are most vulnerable have been identified.
14. Food supplies, cooking gas, financial support and other forms of support are being delivered on nationwide basis.
15. This enormous exercise involves a financial outlay of Rs 170,000 crore/ USD 22 billion. The spectrum of support and the quantums of financial commitment involved may be seen in slides. Disbursals have commenced and the support is reaching those who need it the most.
16. The management of essential services for the general population is a very high priority and is being constantly monitored.
Source: Embassy of India, Sofia
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