India’s measures to combat COVID-19

In the wake of the largest catastrophe the world has to deal with since World War 2 with 179 countries and territories affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, India’s timely actions and proactive approach has been lauded globally.

Current situation

Based on data until March 20 (6:00 pm) there has been a total of 223 COVID – 19 cases, which has been spread across 19 states and union territories. Maharashtra and Kerala have the highest number of cases at 52 and 28 respectively. India has seen its largest jump in COVID-19 cases in a day with 50+ positive cases in a day. A total of 14,376 samples from 13,486 individuals have tested for COVID19. 20 of these cases have been cured and there have been 4 reported deaths.

Government response

The Prime Minister's Office, Group of Ministers, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW) and Cabinet Secretary are closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation. The government has invoked powers under The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 to enhance preparedness and containment of the virus. With COVID-19 being declared a notified disaster, the State Disaster Response Fund, constituted under Section 48 (1) (a) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, is now available with state governments for response measures.

Central ministries along with states/UTs have taken urgent steps to strengthen community surveillance, quarantine facilities, isolation wards, and ensure availability of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), trained manpower and rapid response teams for management of COVID-19.

Travel of passengers from Afghanistan, Philippines, Malaysia to India has been prohibited. All passengers coming from the European Union (27 countries), European Free Trade Association (4 countries), Turkey and the United Kingdom have also been prohibited from entering India. This is a temporary measure and shall remain in force till 31 March 2020. The earlier visa restrictions also remain in force. Over 1 million passengers have been screened at Indian airports. All international flights will be stopped for a week from Sunday.

The response also mirrors India’s reaction to previous disease outbreaks, including Ebola in 2014 and Nipah in 2018, when people were quickly put into quarantine or under surveillance. Indian citizens have been advised to avoid all non-essential travel abroad, and citizens have been evacuated from Iran, Italy, China, and Japan.

Community spread

The Director-General of the Indian Council of Medical Research Balram Bhargava said on Tuesday that community transmission of COVID-19 has not yet occurred in India, meaning people who contracted the virus did so from a known source. But the number of positive cases in India is expected to significantly increase over the next two weeks as community transmission gets underway.

COVID-19 testing

The government is acting on the community transmission risks and has authorized selected private laboratories to test for the virus, freeing up more capacity for diagnosis and detection. ICMR currently uses COVID-19 test kits from Roche Diagnostics and Thermo Fisher for screening and diagnosis of COVID 19 cases. These tests cost about INR4500 (Rs 1,500 for the first step screening assay and Rs 3,000 for confirmatory assays) to the laboratories and ICMR has requested the private laboratories to provide the tests for free to control community spread. Chennai based Trivitron Healthcare is almost ready with an indigenous test kit that is expected to cost INR500. The prototype will be sent to ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) and NIV (National Institute of Virology) for clinical validation and approval.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation on March 19th and reiterated the importance of social distancing. He also announced a “Janata Curfew” requesting all individuals to stay home between 7 am to 9 pm on Sunday, March 22.

With community spread concerns of the COVID-19, the next few weeks will be crucial in controlling the damage in India. Let us come together to break the chain and lead the way in containing this pandemic.

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