India recognised Covid-19 threat early: Health Minister

India recognised Covid-19 threat early, pursued scientific evidence-based approach: Vardhan

Vardhan also said that an effective communication strategy has been the cornerstone of the approach taken by the Centre

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan. Credit: PTI Photo

Covid-19 cases in India are steadily coming down while the caseload of infection in many parts of the world is experiencing a second or even a third peak, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Thursday asserting the government "recognised the threat early and pursued a scientific evidence-based approach".

He made these remarks at a virtual event of Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) and UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR).

The theme of the event was "Build Back Better: building resilient health infrastructure and supply chains", a health ministry statement said.

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Speaking on the Covid trajectory in India, Vardhan said, "It has been almost one year since the outbreak of Covid-19. While the caseload infection in many parts of the world is decreasing, many others are experiencing a second or even a third peak. Fortunately, in India, the cases are steadily coming down. We recognised the threat early and pursued a scientific evidence-based approach."

Highlighting the steps taken by India to handle the unprecedented humanitarian crisis, he stated, "Our first step was to expand our present capacities swiftly, whether it was for testing, PPE production, or hospital beds. We looked at the problem in greater granularity and scaled up at an incredible pace."

"We also repurposed our capacities from multiple research disciplines across a wide range of public and private institutions. We repurposed defence research capacities for quickly erecting hospitals with enhanced capacity. From being an importer of PPEs before the pandemic, India is now a net exporter of PPEs.  We scaled up our testing capacity from a few hundred tests per day to a million tests per day. The nimbleness that the Indian research institutions have shown needs to be not only preserved but also encouraged," he was quoted as saying in the statement.

Vardhan also detailed on how effective communication strategy has been a cornerstone of the approach.

"We have used every possible means to mobilise everyone. The prime minister himself has led this effort and addressed the citizens directly. He has also emphasised the spirit of cooperative federalism, wherein the state and central governments worked hand in hand at each stage," he said.

Emphasising upon the multipronged approach to combat Covid, the minister said, "Apart from this, we recognised early that while the health sector has to be at the forefront of combating Covid-19, it requires involvement of all of the government functions - disaster management, industry, civil aviation, shipping, pharmaceuticals, and environment and so on. We innovated early on to establish an institutional platform in the form of 'empowered groups' to bring together these multi-sectoral functions in a cohesive manner."

He also commented, "We made innovative use of a range of digital technologies to track, monitor and control the disease. In a country like India - with a large digital divide - we had to ensure that we use a judicious mix of different technologies so that no one is left behind."

Vardhan said, "I believe that some of the good practices that have been developed in many countries of the world during the pandemic need to be institutionalised. We do not need to reinvent these in the future. At the same time, we have to think about how we could have done this better. We need a deeper conversation about what 'building back better' in the context of public health infrastructure would mean!..."

Reiterating that disaster resilience is an essential area of common interest globally, he stated, "Over the past decades, India and nations of the world have seen unprecedented progress in economic and human development. However, as Covid-19 has shown, all of this notable progress is at risk if we do not make our systems resilient. The key lesson from the pandemic is that the principles of resilience must be integral to our quest for economic growth as individual nations and the international community.

"Our lives and livelihoods may very well depend on it. In doing so, we have to make our systems resilient to not only pandemics but all types of risks, including those emerging from the effects of climate change."

He added, "We must forge a global dialogue and chart directions for a resilient future for humanity at large. This would be the most worthy tribute to our people - particularly health workers, emergency responders, frontline workers - who have put the world's safety before their own personal safety."