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Coronavirus | Began COVID-19 awareness campaign from March 3, says Health Ministry

Volunteers with helmets that resemble the novel coronavirus participating in an awareness programme. File photo.

Volunteers with helmets that resemble the novel coronavirus participating in an awareness programme. File photo.   | Photo Credit: M_PERIASAMY

RTI activist says far too little was done in February, not enough information shared

The awareness campaign on the COVID-19 pandemic in both print and electronic media started in the first week of March 2020, a response to a Right to Information (RTI) query by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has revealed.

Kolkata-based Biswanath Goswami, a socio-legal researcher and activist, had filed an RTI petition dated March 22 to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, seeking details on various aspects related to the management of the COVID-19 pandemic, including meetings held by the Centre, preparations taken, testing kits and protective gear arranged, and also awareness and publicity carried out by the Centre. The RTI questions were initially transferred to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), respectively.

Also read | Eight states contributed 85% of COVID-19 caseload, 87% of deaths: Health Ministry

“I received a response a few days ago only on the issue of awareness and publicity. The earliest date mentioned by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on when they started awareness in electronic media is March 3,” Mr. Goswami said. Print media advertisements for generating awareness on COVID-19 started from March 5.

Sums spent

According to the RTI response, between March to May, the Ministry spent more than ₹22.21 crore on publicity and awareness campaigns on COVID-19 through electronic and print media. About ₹14.72 crore was spent on advertising on electronic media, and ₹7.49 crore for advertising in print media.

Pointing out that the lockdown in India started from March 25, while the first case of viral infection was detected in Kerala in the last week of January, Mr. Goswami said Centre did “far too little as far as generating awareness in the month of February among the people for combating the pandemic”.

The activist said that there was initially no response to his query and it was only when he filed his first appeal to the DGHS and ICMR that the application was transferred from one department to another.

‘Transferred 29 times’

“The application was transferred 29 times before I could get some response. Except the part dealing with publicity, all the queries have been left unanswered,” Mr. Goswami said. The activist emphasised that more transparency and seriousness is expected of the Central government when dealing with a pandemic.

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Printable version | Jul 7, 2020 7:12:55 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/coronavirus-began-covid-19-awareness-campaign-from-march-3-says-health-ministry/article31933962.ece

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