Does the Indian Government really care?
Since actions speak louder than words the unequivocal answer is a big no. I make this submission by stating data from the government websites.
1. Lets examine the updates available on the ministry of health website. We noticed that after the medical update provided to us on the 25th January 2020 no further updates were given till the 9th of march 2020. There was no update available on the website in the intermittent period.
That is roughly 45 days of gap. This shows a certain lack of transparency. As if the Government was sleeping the whole of February 2020 when COVID 19 was causing havoc In the world. What was the ministry of health doing during that period. Just a reminder that the first COVID-19 positive case surfaced In India on January 30th 2020. After the first case, what exactly did the government do? Precisely nothing! Why? Because Its misplaced priorities were elsewhere. In February It was busy In Delhi elections. Then the Trump show, then pulling down the MP Government. In fact so callus was the Governments attitude that health minister tweeted on 13th march that there Is no corona outbreak In India, even though WHO had declared on 11th March that COVID 19 was a global Pandemic. In fact parliament was In session till march 23rd,even through many MP’s had raised objection to continuation of parliament,but the Government did not listen
2. Now the second question that comes to my mind Is regarding travel restrictions. The first case In India was reported on 3oth January. The Government could have very well closed the International flights landing In India from say second week of February by giving advance notice so that people could have enough time to prepare accordingly. What the Government did on 22nd march could very well have been done on15th Feb. Why It took so much time to stop International flights Is a mystery of Hitchcockian proportions. Also why International travelers were not screened properly on arrival or rather why were they not tested?
3. Now the third question that comes to my mind Is that do we have enough testing facilities. Now the hard fact Is that In a nation of 130 cr people, do you know how many govt labs were there which had testing facilities for covId 19? Well the exact number Is 126, yes you heard It right 126! That Is one lab per one crore people with a capacity of around 50 per day maximum. Did we try to create new capacity In feb 2020? Well no. Were private labs given accreditation to test, no. The private labs were given accreditation by end of march . A big question Is why? In fact permission to manufacture kits was given to only one Gujarat based company Initially! Even though 22 others had applied for It. Incidentally the kits manufactured by this company were rejected by ICMR !
4. Fourth, do we have enough protective gear for doctors and other health workers, sadly again the answer Is a big no. On top of that the manufacturers of such gear were allowed to export these Items tIll 19th march 2020. The present outrage among doctors Is due to the shortage of these Items. My question Is was the govt sleeping? Was It not aware that doctors and healthcare workers would be needing protective gear In this fight with covId 19 .will accountability be fixed for this lapse?
5. Next coming to the most important aspect of health infrastructure such as hospital’s capacity to accomodate and treat COVID 19 patients. According to data available till July 2019, the shortage of hospital beds that Is counting primary health centers (which are useless and can be called hospitals only on paper) Is 44.4%.yes that Is right 44.4% shortage of ordinary beds, and mind you out of the available beds less than 0.1% are ICU beds. Did we do anything to scale up facilities? Answer again Is a big no. In fact the percentage allotted to healthcare In this budget Is less than the last budget. Talk about misplaced priorities. Sab changa si !
6. Now coming to the lockdown. After failing to take timely and appropriate steps explained above, the Government panicked and announced an unplanned lockdown at 8pm on 24th march which resulted In panic. The result of which was mass exodus of migrant labor from big cities. Lacks of workers fearing starvation started to walk back to their homes hundreds of kilometers away. This had the reverse effect of social distancing. Images of thousands of people at lal kuan and anand vihar are still fresh In our mind.
7. Another measure which the Government could have taken but did not take In time was to ban public gatherings In malls and cinema halls etc. Or In religious places, or taking out religious processions/ rallies. Had the measures been put In place by mid February, the episode like gathering In nizammuddin markaz would not have taken place at all. In fact nizammudIn Incident was not an Isolated Incident, around the same time many religious gatherings were taking place In the country. In fact when pm announced the lockdown devotees were stranded In tirupati and had to be evacuated. Similarly people were stranded In vaishno devi and haridwar and had to be evacuated. In fact the parliament was In session tIll 23rd of march.
8 .last but not the least Is the disparity In distribution of funds to the states. Politics was played even In this with opposition ruled states getting pittance. Furthermore priority of this got was to approve central vista project, cost of which Is rs. 20,000 cr. These funds could be used to scale up capacity to fight covId 19 and giving a stimulus to the economy.Many association of resident doctors have been requesting the Government for providing protective gear but it seems to fall on deaf ears.Now another order which central government has passed which can be determintal in fight against COVID 19 is that State Government cannot purchase protective gear directly only central Government can procure it and distribute it to state Governments, who came up with this absurd idea is a mystery What does all this lethargy/ Inactivity by our Government show? It points to one thing that It simply does not care!
The writer is a practising medical doctor in NCR region