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Parliamentary panel bats for laws to counter bio-terrorism

Wearing a personal protective equipment, a nurse goes on with her daily duty at the COVID-19 outpatient department of a hospital. File photo.   | Photo Credit: B. Jothi Ramalingam

Formulating effective laws to counter bio-terrorism is one of the important lessons to be learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic, a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health has said in a report, “The Outbreak of Pandemic COVID-19 And its Management.” Among other things, the report said low testing and shoddy contact tracing were responsible for the spike in cases. 

The committee, headed by Samajwadi Party MP Ramgopal Yadav, submitted its report to the Rajya Sabha Chairman on Saturday.

Parliamentary panel bats for laws to counter bio-terrorism
 

Strategic partnerships

“The adverse effects of COVID-19 pandemic have taught the lesson on the importance of controlling biological agents and the need for strategic partnerships among different nations. The committee, therefore, feels that the present time is the most appropriate for the government to formulate effective laws to counter bio-terrorism,” the report says. 

This conclusion is based on the deliberations that the committee had with the Department of Health and Family Welfare which submitted a seven-point action plan that is needed to ensure security against biological weapons. These include “strengthening disease surveillance, including at animal-human interface, training and capacity building for management of public health emergencies arising from use of bio-weapons and strengthening research and surveillance activities related to development of diagnostics, vaccines and drugs.”

More research

The report has suggested that the Health Ministry should engage with agencies and actively participate in ongoing international treaties. “The committee strongly recommends the Ministry to conduct more research and work towards training and capacity building for management of public health emergencies arising from use of bio-weapons,” the report states.

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The report does not explicitly state that the COVID-19 virus itself was a bio-weapon. 

The international scientific community has also repeatedly debunked the conspiracy theory that COVID-19 virus was developed as a bio-weapon. 

The standing committee report has blamed “poor contact tracing and slow testing” for the alarming rise of positive cases in the first few months of the pandemic.

Also read | Did SARS-CoV-2 begin from a lab?

Too many guidelines

The plethora of guidelines issued by the Health Ministry caused confusion and chaos, the report noted. Many of these guidelines were contradictory and different quarantine rules imposed by the State governments added to the panic, the report said.

Also read | India’s overall spending on health sector ‘low’, says Niti Aayog member

The committee has also pulled up the Union Health Ministry for “grossly inadequate” number of hospital beds in government hospitals. Citing an example, the report said, “The committee is pained to observe that in RML Hospital, out of 1,572 beds, only 242 were dedicated COVID-19 beds whereas in Safdarjung Hospital, out of 2,873 beds, only 289 were reserved for COVID-19 patients. The committee fails to understand the rationale behind the minuscule number of beds reserved for COVID-19 patients in the Central government hospitals, especially at a time when the number of patients was increasing rapidly in the capital city.” 

Since the demand for oxygen cylinders has reported an exponential increase, the committee has strongly advocated that necessary measures be taken to cap their price. 

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Printable version | Nov 24, 2020 9:06:36 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/private-hospitals-charged-exorbitant-fees-spending-on-health-abysmally-low-parliament-panel-on-covid-19/article33149201.ece

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