NEW DELHI: Asserting that coronavirus is a “new agent” about which not everything is known, the government on Sunday defended the timing of imposition of the lockdown and rejected as “baseless” media reports expressing concerns that it did not take inputs from technical experts while drawing up its Covid-19 strategy.
The government also said it is “fine-tuning” its strategy based on emerging knowledge and experience on the ground.
In a statement, the health ministry said a section of the media is reporting on the decisions regarding India’s approach to the pandemic and asserted that the decision on the lockdown was taken in the background of rapid escalation of Covid-19 cases.
“The doubling rate of cases had dropped to a low level, pointing toward a dangerous trajectory of high case load and high mortality, as experienced by many western countries. The possibility that our health systems could soon be overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients seemed to be real,” the ministry said.
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There was all-round consensus on the lockdown among all state governments, it said.
The government has already shared information on the impact of the lockdown and other restrictions to avert lakhs of infections and thousands of deaths, as also enormous gains in the health system and people’s preparedness, the ministry said.
It said policies and strategies need to be calibrated to keep pace with the rapidly evolving situation the nation is faced with.
“This virus is a new agent, not everything is known about it as yet. Government is fine-tuning the strategy based on emerging knowledge and experience on the ground,” the statement said.
“As is well known in public health, different stages of epidemic demand different responses, and the nuanced, step-wise response is known to be a positive characteristic of a resilient health system,” it said.
The ministry also said there are some reports in a section of the media expressing concern about the government’s efforts towards containment and management of Covid-19 to have excluded the larger wisdom of technical experts.
“These apprehensions and allegations are unfounded and baseless. The government is constantly in consultation with experts for technical and strategic inputs, scientific ideas and domain-specific guidance to address the Covid-19 pandemic,” the statement said.
A National Task Force (NTF) for Covid-19 is constituted by Secretary DHR-cum-DG- ICMR with Member (Health) NITI Aayog as Chairperson and Secretary (DoHFW) and Secretary (DHR) as co-chairs, it said
The NTF comprises 21 members including technical or domain experts from the government and outside the government, the ministry said.
Predominant expertise in the Task Force is from public health and/or epidemiology, it noted.
Given the complexity and implications of the Covid-19 pandemic, the group has experts from medicine, virology, pharmacology and programme implementation domains as well, it highlighted.
The task force has constituted four expert groups and the groups on Epidemiology and Surveillance (13 members) and on Operations Research (15 members) almost entirely comprise of public health and epidemiology experts from the government and non-government arena.
The task force has held over 20 meetings and has systematically contributed towards the scientific and technical response to the pandemic, it said.
Among other contributions, the Task Force has issued guidelines on testing, prevention, treatment and surveillance.
In addition to the NTF, the ministry of health and family welfare has also constituted a group of experts with public health experts as members, the statement said.
The people, the WHO and the global health community have appreciated India’s proactive and pre-emptive approach to Covid-19, it stated.
Compared to countries that have eased lockdowns such as UK, Italy, Spain and Germany, India has reported the lowest number of cases per lakh population, at 17.23 cases per lakh population and 0.49 deaths per lakh population, it said, citing a WHO Situation Report.
The various policy decisions, interventions and strategies for containment and management of Covid-19 have been placed in the public domain and its impact has been shared with people through various media platforms, regular media briefings, daily press releases from various ministries and departments, panel discussions on electronic and social media, the statement said.
The nationwide curbs were first announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 for 21 days in a bid to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The lockdown was first extended till May 3 and then again till May 17. It was further extended till May 31 and now has been extended in containment zones till June 30.