Over 600 scientists endorsed a letter to the Prime Minister, urging him to take certain measures to fight out the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
The letter is below:
The Prime Minister, Government of India
We welcome the measures the government has taken to ensure physical distancing to arrest the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the experiences of Singapore, South Korea, and Japan have shown that social distancing by itself does not suffice; it is necessary to embark on testing on a very large scale to identify and isolate not only the symptomatic patients but also the infected asymptomatic individuals. Moreover, the country also has to prepare the health-care system to be able to treat millions of patients, if the situation arises. In this context we would like to put forth a few concrete proposals to deal with the crisis.
1. Whenever anybody tests positive, extensive testing has to be done covering the whole neighbourhood, the nearby market area, and the places that the individual visited over the past few days, at least by random sampling. That will require increasing the rate of testing to a substantially higher level compared to what is being done presently. This will require not only a larger number of test-kits, but also a large number of trained personnel. We propose that unemployed science graduates be specially recruited for this purpose and should be trained on a war footing.
2. Most biology departments in research institutions and universities have RT-PCR machines in BSL2 facilities which can be used for COVID-19 detection. Faculty and students of many of these institutions are prepared to offer their services in this crisis period. Effective steps should be taken to utilize these facilities to enhance the testing capability of the nation.
3. India is lagging way behind in genetic sequencing of the novel coronavirus. We do not have sufficient data on which mutated variants of the virus are there in India, neither do we know anything about the rate at which it is mutating—all of which are crucial for effective management of the pandemic. Therefore, we request you to increase the number of genomic sequencing of the coronavirus isolated from Indian patients, and to make the results publicly available.
4. Isolation wards should be created in district and subdivision-level hospitals, and even in the primary health centres, equipping them with the necessary infrastructure to treat COVID-19 patients. The government should use the facilities in private hospitals to create special wards to provide free treatment to COVID-19 patients. All indoor stadiums and similar indoor spaces should be turned into COVID field hospitals. Private doctors, nurses, and semi-skilled helpers should be recruited to serve these makeshift hospitals. Complete safety should be ensured for the people serving in these hospitals.
5. The emerging situation will require large-scale production of PPE gear for health-care personnel, and masks and sanitizers for common people. The government should initiate planned production of these essential items by requisitioning closed factory spaces and by engaging workers rendered jobless by the lock-down.
6. The nation needs to produce a large number of ventilators in a short time. Many relatively inexpensive designs of ventilators (including mechanized Ambu bags) have been proposed by Indian investigators. Some international companies have also made their ventilator designs public. Indian pharmaceutical companies and other manufacturers should be requisitioned to mass produce such ventilators to meet the nation's requirement. Building an Indian innovation-development-production infrastructure is the need of the hour.
7. Migrant labourers are stuck in different states due to sudden announcement of the lock- down. Most of them are living in crowded places and it will not be possible for them to maintain physical distancing—a practice necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Central Government should initiate a dialogue with the states to provide transit of these helpless people to their home states by means of special trains. Once they reach their respective subdivisions, they should be quarantined in primary health centres or school buildings for 14 days before allowing them to go home. Adequate financial and material support should be provided to daily wage labourers and poor people who have lost their livelihood due to the lock-down.
8. The expenses of the above programmes should be raised by levying taxes on the super-rich, and by using Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds of all national and multinational companies—not by taxing the common people. Since health is a state subject, the Union Government should allocate adequate funds to the states for combating this critical situation. Since research scholars are losing valuable research time due to the lock-down, their tenure of fellowship should be extended by at least 6 months.
We hope that the government will give due consideration to the above proposals.
Soumitro Banerjee, IISER Kolkata
Alladi Sitaram, Indian Statistical Institute(Retd.)
Jayant Murthy Indian Institute of Astrophysics
Debashis Mukherjee, S N Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences
Debabrata Ghosh, All India Institute of Medical Sciences Delhi
D S Ray, IACS
Naba K Mondal, INSA Senior Scientist, SINP, Kolkata
Partha Majumder, National Inst. of Biomedical Genomics and ISI
Dipankar Chatterji, Indian Institute of Science
Ayan Banerjee, IISER Kolkata
Dhrubajyoti Mukhopadhyay, Raman Centre for Applied and Interdisciplinary Sciences
Pradipta Bandyopadhyay, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Parongama Sen, University of Calcutta
Damodar Maity, IIT Kharagpur
Sarbari Bhattacharya, Bangalore University
Nilesh Maiti, Shishuram Das College, Calcutta University
Srikanth Sastry, JNCASR, Bengaluru
Partho Sarothi Ray, IISER Kolkata
Anupam Basu, IIT Kharagpur
Amitabha Basu, Retired Scientist, CSIR-NPL, New Delhi
Ajit Srivastava, Institute of Physics Bhubaneswar
Prof. Rajan Gurukkal, State Higher Education Council, Kerala
R Ramanujam, Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai
Indrani Bose, Retired scientist, Bose Institute, Kolkata
Anindita Bhadra, IISER Kolkata
Aniket Sule, HBCSE-TIFR, Mumbai
Raju Mukherjee, IISER Tirupati
Enakshi Bhattacharya, IIT Madras
Pradipta Bandyopadhyay, Indian Statistical Institute
Nagarjuna, (GN) TIFR
Abhijit Majumder, IIT Bombay
Chandan Dasgupta, Indian Institute of Science
Prof Pranab Roy, Institute of Child Health.
Siddhartha Sen, IIT Kharagpur
Pabitra Banik, Indian Statistical Institute
Debabrata Bera, Jadavpur University
Sharath Ananthamurthy, University of Hyderabad
Arunan.M.C., Kishore Bharati
Indrani Bose Retired scientist, Bose Institute, Kolkata
Asoke P Chattopadhyay University of Kalyani
And 600 others