PM Modi urges States to strengthen COVID-19 vigil

Random testing of international passengers arriving at airports will resume from December 24; masks were being distributed to MPs, journalists and visitors at Parliament’s entry gates

December 22, 2022 09:59 am | Updated December 23, 2022 12:04 am IST - New Delhi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi chairs a high-level meeting to review status and preparedness of public health response to COVID-19 in New Delhi on December 22, 2022. Photo: PIB via PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi chairs a high-level meeting to review status and preparedness of public health response to COVID-19 in New Delhi on December 22, 2022. Photo: PIB via PTI

The penultimate day of the winter session of Parliament saw a return to masks and a few other COVID-19 protocols on the back of a global spike in coronavirus cases, even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a meeting of top government officials to assess India’s COVID-19 preparedness.

At Thursday’s briefing — the first of its kind with the PM in attendance in several months — Mr. Modi directed officials to strengthen the ongoing surveillance measures, especially at international airports. Random testing of 2% of the passengers arriving on every international flight will resume from 10 a.m. on December 24, the Health Ministry later said, in a letter to the Civil Aviation Ministry.

At the meeting chaired by the PM, attendees discussed the COVID-19 situation in the country, preparedness of health infrastructure and logistics, status of the country’s vaccination campaign, the emergence of new COVID-19 variants and their public health implications for the India, according to a statement from the PM’s Office.

Setting an example

Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya also made a statement on India’s COVID-19 situation in both Houses of Parliament, which saw a resurfacing of protocols, such as handing masks to visitors, journalists and Members of Parliament at the entry gates. 

Both Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar asked MPs to wear masks inside the House and spread awareness about COVID-appropriate behaviour. “I urge all the members to be extra-cautious about the surging Covid cases in the world. It is our ardent duty to set an example before our country,” Mr. Dhankhar said. 

Global cases rising

A large number of cases are being reported globally, from countries including Japan, the United States, South Korea, France, Greece and Italy. There are also media reports of a high number of cases and deaths being reported from China over the last few days, Mr. Mandaviya told Parliament.

He said that the Health Ministry has adopted a “proactive, pre-emptive, whole of government and whole of society approach” towards the management of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. “This approach has shown positive results,” he said. As part of this, 90% of the eligible population has been administered with two doses of vaccines, including the administration of 22.35 crore precaution doses.

India would continue to focus on the strategic principles of ‘Test-Track-Treat-Vaccination and adherence to COVID-appropriate behavior’ for the management of COVID-19, he said.

Random testing at airports

Mr. Mandaviya added that the government planned to randomly test a 2% sample of all arrivals at all international airports to minimise the risk of ingress of any new variant into the country. Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote to the Civil Aviation Ministry to coordinate with airport operators and airport health officers to start the random testing from 10 a.m. this Saturday. Passengers must be identified by airlines and should preferably be from different countries, said Mr. Bhushan, adding that passengers would be able to leave the airport after giving their samples for testing. Random testing at airports had been stopped in late November. 

Reacting to the return of Covid protocols in Parliament, Congress leader, Jairam Ramesh, said that Modi government had suddenly listened to adjourning Parliament sine die on Friday as they wanted to defame the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ using Covid. 

“Parliament will adjourn sine die tomorrow at 11.30 a.m. This was a demand by Opposition parties long ago since there weren’t many Bills to be passed. Modi government which never listens, suddenly agreed so that its use of Covid-19 to defame and derail #BharatJodoYatra acquires a shade of respectability,” he tweeted.  

At the briefing with health officials, Mr. Modi was told that India had been witnessing a steady decline in cases, with average daily cases falling to 153 and the weekly positivity rate down to 0.14% in the week ending December 22. However, 5.9 lakh daily average cases have been reported globally in the last six weeks.

Audit for operational readiness

The Prime Minister advised States to audit COVID-19-specific facilities to ensure the operational readiness of hospital infrastructure, including oxygen cylinders, pressure-swing adoption plants, ventilators and human resources.

The Prime MInister was told that there were enough medicines, vaccines and hospital beds. He directed officials to ramp up testing and also whole-genome sequencing efforts. States have been asked to share more samples with the designated Genome Sequencing Laboratories on a daily basis. “This will support timely detection of newer variants, if any, circulating in the country and facilitate undertaking requisite public health measures,” according to the PMO statement.

Precaution doses needed

Mr. Modi urged everyone to follow COVID-appropriate behaviour at all times, especially in view of the upcoming festive season, including wearing masks in crowded public places. Precaution doses should be taken, particularly by the elderly and those at heightened risk for infection, he said.

The meeting was attended by Home Minister Amit Shah, Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya and his Minister of State Pravin Pawar, Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, and Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur. Other attendees included PK Mishra, Principal Secretary to the PM; Parameswaran Iyer, CEO, NITI Aayog; V.K. Paul, Member (Health) NITI Aayog; Rajiv Gauba, Cabinet Secretary; Amit Khare, Advisor, PMO; A.K. Bhalla, Home Secretary;  Rajesh Bhushan, Secretary (Health and Family Welfare); Dr Rajiv Bahl, Secretary (Department of Health Research); Arun Baroka, Secretary, Pharmaceuticals.

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