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India had a proactive, pre-emptive and graded response to COVID-19 owing to which the disease can still be contained, the Central Government has said in its status report submitted to the Supreme Court regarding the country’s preparedness to combat the pandemic.
The Status report states that, "The Central government initiated the timely actions and geared up all its Ministries much more before WHO declared Covid-19 to be a 'Public Health Emergency of International Concern.'"
Further, it is asserted,
Inter alia, it has been submitted that after an announcement on January 7 by China about the Novel Coronavirus, the Union Health Secretary in India addressed all State Health Secretaries to examine and take necessary actions for adequate hospital preparedness to meet potential emergencies.
“This was much in advance and without wasting even a single day after announcement made by China.”
The Centre highlights.
Thermal screening of all passengers coming in from China at three international airports commenced thereafter, on January 18, the report further states. Moreover, it is submitted that owing to the ongoing efforts by the Central Government, presently the spread of COVID-19 in India is much slower than compared to several other countries.
The measures submitted to have been taken so far the the Government at various levels includes the following:
A Group of Ministers (Health, Aviation, Shipping, Home Affairs, External Affairs) under the chairpersonship of the Union Health Minister was formed to monitor India’s response.
A Committee of Secretaries chaired by the Cabinet secretary coordinated the management efforts on the ground level across the country.
Thermal screening was progressively carried out at airports, seaports and land borders. This was started even before the first case was of COVID-19 was reported in India, the Centre has submitted.
Travel restrictions were imposed periodically depending on the severity of the spread.
Existing visas were suspended from countries which reported a high number of infections.
Progressively, flights in India were restricted. All International flights were stopped from March 22, and the restrictions are to continue until April 14.
Passengers are also being monitored through the “Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme” by the Ministry of Health, Central Government, in cooperation with State Governments.
Passengers are further monitored for a 28 day period through this programme.
The passengers at risk are profiled based on travel history, contact history, age and co-morbidities Any one who becomes symptomatic during this period is immediately hospitalised and treated as per defined medical protocols for the management of COVID-19.
A list of all passengers obtained from the Bureau of Immigration was sent to State Governments for monitoring these International passengers as per the medical protocol.
The Central Government has substantially enhanced the country’s testing capacity for COVID-19 on war footing, from a single lab in January to 118 labs presently operational with a testing capacity of 15,000 tests per day.
The Central Government has coordinated with 47 private laboratory chains who have more than 20,000 collection centres in the country
Steps are being taken to raise awareness among the general public on hygiene and preventive strategies through media including social media, daily press briefings by Health Ministry officials and related ministries.
Authentic and requisite guidelines, advisories etc. are being disseminated through the website of the Union Health Ministry.
Dedicated call centres and helplines have been started to guide the community.
To manage the “single most unmanageable hindrance” of fake news and material likely to cause panic, the Central Government will set up a separate unit to answer citizen queries and provide real time and true facts, keeping the response time in mind depending on the contents of the query.
The Government, however raises concern that, “Despite all efforts fake news/ inaccurate news and panic material being circulated/telecast, whether knowingly or inadvertently, still remains a challenge even in difficult times like the present time.”
In view of such concerns, the Central Government has also urged the Supreme Court to,
The Government adds that, "an appropriate direction from this Hon’ble Court would protect the country from any potential and inevitable consequence resulting from a false alarm having the potential of creating panic in a section of the society."
State Governments have been asked to identify adequate isolation beds and ICU beds in existing Government hospitals and private hospitals.
State Government have been advised to develop dedicated COVID-10 hospitals or dedicated wards on war footing.
Dedicated COVID-19 blacks/hospitals are also to be created by Departments of Defence, Railways, para-military forces, Labour Ministry etc. so far, 1.35 lakh isolation beds have been identified.
Rail wagons are being converted as isolation beds by the Railways Ministry
Central Government is extending necessary support to States to fully equip COVID-19 hospitals
Necessary Funds are provided to State Governments under the National Health Mission and through State Disaster Response Fund to augment quarantine facilities, upgrade hospital infrastructure, procedure personal protection equipment (PPE), ventilators, N95 masks etc.
Orders to purchase 40,000 ventilators to meet contingencies has been placed
An Expert Group has been constituted under NITI Ayog member, Dr Vinod Pail to advise the Government on containment measures and check on community transmission.
A 21-day national lockdown was eventually declared after it was found absolutely necessary to contain further spread of the disease. Available facts, figures and strategies were considered carefully and an analysed scientifically before taking the decision to impose the national lockdown from March 25 to April 14, the Central Government adds.
To ensure that no one is deprived of basic amenities during the lockdown, the Government has worked out a financial package of Rs 1.7 lakh crores to take care of such hardships.
Particularly with respect to workers (most of whom are migrant labourers), it is stated that they will be provided financial assistance through the “Welfare Fund for Building and other Construction Workers”, which would cover 3.5 registered workers.
Health workers will be covered by a special insurance scheme with compensation of Rs 50 lakh if they meet with an accident.
The RBI has also announced measures for interim relief
The Court was told that the migrant workers keep travelling in large numbers to travel to their homes, it is likely that the would carry the COVID-19 infection with them and infect the rural population of their villages.
Therefore, it was finally decided not to permit such further movement of migrant workers, but rather have them stay wherever they are, while providing them shelter, food and other essential facilities.
The Central Government has directed the provision of food packets through various means including the use of spare prison kitchen, mid-day meal vendors, IRCTC facilities etc.
The Government is also going to implement a system whereby migrant workers will be offering requisite counselling.
Employers have been directed to pay migrant labours their wages without any deduction during the lockdown.
The local administration has been made personally responsible to monitor the implementation of these directions.
Other notable steps stated to have been taken by the Central Government include the issuance of directions to check and sensitise people against harassment of persons from North East India. In this regard, an advisory was issued by the Union Home Affairs Ministry to all law enforcement agencies across States and Union Territories.
[Read the full Status Report here]
The matter was heard earlier today by the Supreme Court, when the Bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde passed various directions including general directions for the welfare of migrant labourers.
The matter has been scheduled to be taken up next on April 7.