Universities and research institutes across the country have been asked by the Union Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry to delve into their archives and other means to study how India handled the 1918 H1N1 (commonly referred to as Spanish Flu) pandemic and what measures were taken to boost the economy after the pandemic had run its course, leaving more than 12-17 million people dead in the country.
The letter, written by B.V.R.C Purushottam (IAS officer currently private secretary and chief of staff to Union HRD minister Ramesh Pokhriyal “Nishank”), also tells university departments to set up research teams and study the levels of awareness of COVID-19 in villages near university campuses.
The Indian government extended the all-India lockdown on April 14 by another three weeks but has been talking about a staggered exit and searching for the optimum balance between saving lives and saving businesses. Lakhs of migrant workers too have been left high and dry due to the lockdown and the peculiar requirements of the pandemic , in which close contact has led to virulent rates of infection and spread.
The Union Home Ministry has allowed shops (not in malls) registered under the Shops and Establishment Act to open in non-municipal areas in an order on Friday and for harvesting and sowing operations in rural India to proceed. But a huge question mark still remains on the granular details of just how an exit from the lockdown can be effected without any cure for COVID-19 in sight.
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“The letter is basically to ask for a non-bureaucratic view on how to effect an exit from the lockdown. Most old universities have, in their archives, much material on how the 1918 pandemic was handled in terms of public health and the economy. That needs to be made into case studies and solutions are needed which are tailored to local areas, and also broad brushstrokes. Bureaucratic solutions can be blinkered,” said a source in the HRD Ministry to The Hindu .
According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, as of Saturday morning, India had 24,508 cases of COVID-19 with 775 fatalities and 5,062 recoveries.