Harsh Vardhan on Thursday said India may not face the “worst scenario” of the Covid-19 situation due to the various steps taken by the government to check the spread of the virus.
Speaking at the
Bennett University’s global online conference on ‘Covid-19 – Fallout & Future’, the minister emphasised that the government has managed to slow the spread of the virus by following a multi-pronged strategy.
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“Measures like active screening, community surveillance, capacity building of ASHA workers and upgrading the health infrastructure have helped India reduce infection rate,” he said.
He said the government had formulated a health preparedness plan within the first few days of India’s first
coronavirus case in January this year.
“An aggressive screening of people who travelled from other countries and following their contact history helped the government identify patients in good time,” he said.
Vardhan said a combination of social distancing and
lockdown is the “potent social vaccine” for India to combat the pandemic.
The Union minister hoped that India will be able to skip the worst of the pandemic with the addition of 48,000 ventilators that will arrive soon.
Talking about the economic impact of the pandemic, former chief economic advisor Dr Virmani pointed out that the effect of the current lockdown is at 2.8 per cent of GDP.
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“If this lockdown is extended to the end of April, it will go up to 5 per cent; if it is extended to the end of May, it will be 9 per cent. The cost of this extreme lockdown will be much higher from April 15 onwards,” he asserted.
Calling the lockdown a shock therapy to slow the spread of the disease through reducing contact, Dr Virmani said that it is a measure that had served its purpose.
Former finance secretary Subhash Chandra Garg said that with the pandemic affecting most sectors like mining, manufacturing, construction and infrastructure, around 2/3rd of the economy is suffering losses.
“Roughly 1/3 of the economy is functioning, 1/6 digital economy is functional but 60 per cent is still shuttered and that has led to many consequences. This means you have loss of about 60 per cent, which means 2/3 of the economy is suffering the loss,” Garg said.
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He asserted that there is need to balance the risk of the spread as this virus will not go away. “But there is a middle path which we require – a combination of opening up of some sectors that are less susceptible to the virus and curtailing sectors and services that are more vulnerable,” he said.
AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleria, who addressed the conference via a pre-recorded message, said the country needs to work together to flatten the curve to an extent that it doesn’t exceed the extent of medical facilities in the country.
“The chance of air-borne transmission is low. Hence, the government is focusing on maintaining hygiene and washing hands,” he said.
Dr Guleria said the battle has to be won “not in the hospital but in the community” and asserted that lockdown and social distancing are the only ways to beat the virus.
More on Covid-19
The panelists presented different views on the decision to lift the lockdown, with most of them saying that the government must take a cautious approach.
Author and commentator Gurcharan Das said the decision on whether to extend or continue with the lockdown is a “dharma sankat” or “Sophie’s choice” for PM Modi’s government.
“The moral dilemma for the present government is ‘who should live? Who should die?’,” Das said, referring to the migrant crisis after the lockdown.
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WHO special envoy on Covid-19 Dr David Nabarro said in his address that Covid-19 was an ongoing process and “as things unfold, there could be a shift in the WHO’s approach.”
Dr Nabarro said that in the case of any of the coronaviruses that have afflicted human beings including SARS and MERS, it was very important to identify the disease, contain the spread and isolate the infected people.
“The reason for this is these viruses are very different from the ones causing influenza,” he said.
Dr Nabarro had a word of caution on releasing of lockdowns, saying that it must be done only after making sure that not a single infected person goes to an area without any patients as that would certainly lead to new outbreaks.
Renowned cardiologist Dr Devi Shetty said that in a country in which only 6 per cent of the population depends on the organised sector, “it is very difficult to extend the lockdown”.
“There may not be a medical reason to continue with the lockdown beyond two weeks except for the hotspot regions,” he said.
Niti Aayog vice chairman
Rajiv Kumar highlighted the need to bring in reforms in the medical education system and traditional medicine.
“We need to reduce the cost of medical education quite dramatically. We must not over-professionalize the system. We don’t always need a qualified MBBS to give us an anesthesia or read scans. We can have a whole set of technically qualified yet not-so-expensive experts,” Kumar said.
Kumar added that there is also a strong need to bring traditional medicine into the mainstream which can serve as an effective preventive medicine and help build up immunity.
Covid-19: Social distancing, lockdown most potent vaccine, says Health Minister at Bennett University online conference