Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Sunday said in the absence of a vaccine, only strict adherence to the norms of wearing masks, social distancing and maintaining personal hygiene could help in putting up an effective fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. He appealed to all the Lok Sabha MPs to ensure that people in their constituencies followed the norms.
Worldwide, 145 vaccine candidates are at the pre-clinical evaluation stage and 35 are undergoing clinical trials. In all, 30 candidates are being supported in India, of which three are at the advanced stages of phase-I, phase-II and phase-III trials, and four are at the pre-clinical trial advanced stages, said Dr. Vardhan, adding that a detailed strategy on vaccine production, storage, distribution and usage had already been prepared.
The Minister said in the past nine months, all the Chief Ministers, officials, non-government and religious organisations and the general public had come together to face the situation, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi provided the leadership.
He said, in his statements in February and March, he had shared the details of the measures taken by the government. Stating the lockdown period was utilised to create the necessary infrastructure, the Minister said against just one laboratory, there were now 1,773 units across the country and as a result, 6.37 crore tests had been conducted so far.
During the pandemic, the government had brought in over 12 lakh people stranded abroad. It provided ₹50 lakh insurance to more than 22 lakh healthcare and frontline workers. About 64 lakh workers and their family members were ferried. The PM CARES Fund was used to buy 50,000 ventilators. Local industries were encouraged to ramp up production of testing kits, PPEs and masks.
To enhance preparedness for future challenges, Dr. Vardhan said genome sequencing of 2,000 viruses had been done and 15 repositories of 40,000 virus had been created to encourage research works.
Earlier, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the government was still not accepting that there was a community transmission. The epidemic could not be prevented but its intensity could have been mitigated by timely and well laid-out strategy, he said. He raised suspicion about under reporting of deaths. He also suggested a separate ministry for migrant labourers.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said the Centre did not listen to his party leader Rahul Gandhi’s warning and that it did not make much effort to consult with the State governments and the Opposition, and rather, appeared more interested in toppling the then Madhya Pradesh government.
Mr. Tharoor said the government’s ₹20-lakh crore financial package inspired little confidence. He also raised the issue of mass exodus of workers and job losses. His party colleague Karti Chidambaram also criticised the government’s handling of the situation.
BJP MP Kirit Premjibhai Solanki listed the measures taken by the Centre on the distribution of free food grain, gas cylinders and direct cash transfers to widows, women, senior citizens and farmers, besides relief to migrant labourers and relaxation in taxes and fund infusions for developing health infrastructure and intervention.
Party leader Nishikant Dubey said the House should send a message that everyone — cutting across all parties, ideologies and religions — came together to help each other in addressing the situations arising out of the outbreak. He also requested that the definition of migrant workers be revisited, given that they could not be termed as migrants just because they worked in other States. The same view was expressed by JD(U)’s Rajiv Ranjan Singh.
YSRCP’s B.V. Satyavathi appreciated the Centre’s post-lockdown efforts in balancing the need for saving lives and livelihoods.
However, DMK’s Dayanidhi Maran said the government woke up late and failed to effectively utilise the lockdown period.
“We realised on the 3rd of February that the first case of coronavirus was reported in Kerala. We should have woken up. We should have closed our borders. We should have started the checking. But what did we do? We had ‘Namaste Trump’ event because Trump was coming,” he said.
TMC’s Kalyan Banerjee shared details of the work done by the West Bengal government and raised the issue of GST arrears due to the States. Shiv Sena’s Arvind Sawant also sought necessary assistance to the States.
Bhartruhari Mahtab (BJD), P. Raveendranath Kumar (AIADMK), Nama Nageswara Rao (TRS), Amol Ramsingh Kolhe of CPI(M), A.M. Ariff and Hasnain Masoodi (J&KNC), E.T. Mohammed Basheer (IUML), Anupriya Patel (Apna Dal), Syed Imtiaz Jaleel (AIMIM), Locket Chatterjee (BJP) and Pradyut Bordoloi (Congress) also participated in the discussion.