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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Given our constraints, India handled Covid-19 situation very maturely: Dr Harsh Vardhan

Harsh Vardhan said, "The challenges and efforts needed to rapidly develop, evaluate and produce vaccine are enormous. Physicians, funders and manufacturers have come together as part of an international collaboration, coordinated by WHO, to help speed up the availability of a vaccine against COVID-19."

Written by Abantika Ghosh | New Delhi | Updated: May 2, 2020 9:21:54 am
India covid-19, Harsh Vardhan interview, Harsh Vardhan health minister coronavirus, WHO coronavirus, covid-19 Harsh Vardhan, Harsh Vardhan Covid-19, India lockdown coronavirus, Indian express news Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan. (Twitter/@drharshvardhan)

Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan speaks to The Indian Express about the measures India has taken to fight COVID-19, and the way forward. EXCERPTS: 

The government is saying India has fought COVID-19 the best. Are we counting our chicks too soon?

No. Given our constraints, I would say that India handled the situation very maturely — with speed, scale and determination pre-emptively, proactively and in a graded manner. Today we stand at a better position compared to other countries so far as morbidity and mortality is concerned. Our numbers show this.

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You would remember that on January 7, China reported the first case to WHO and on January 8, we started deliberations with our technical team of experts. By January 17, we had formulated our detailed response and issued detailed advisories to all states. Within the next 2-3 days, we started thermal screening of all international passengers coming from COVID-19 affected countries at seven major airports…We strengthened our mechanism for country-wide surveillance, contact tracing as well as entry screening for travellers. In coordination with states/UTs, we reviewed our public health system preparedness… Keeping in view the transmission mode of the disease, socio-cultural and geographic considerations of our country and on the basis of learnings from global experiences, we stressed on ways and means to enforce social distancing as the most potent ‘social vaccine’ for combating COVID-19. Lockdown is one such public health measure…

Is there a sense that India has got a less virulent strain of the virus? Why are there such high mortalities in places like Indore and Ahmedabad?

This question cannot be answered without going into the epidemiology of the disease. COVID-19 outbreak in India has been the result of an imported viral strain… A paper from China described two different variants of this virus — S and L. L virus has been described to be more transmissible and pathogenic. However, the study had many flaws. The genetic make-up of the virus is not the sole predictor of the virulence of the SARS-CoV-2… The transmission and pathogenicity could have been influenced by many other factors which have not been considered in the study… Hence, we do not have robust evidence to attribute high mortality to viral strains in Indore and Ahmedabad.

India covid-19, Harsh Vardhan interview, Harsh Vardhan health minister coronavirus, WHO coronavirus, covid-19 Harsh Vardhan, Harsh Vardhan Covid-19, India lockdown coronavirus, Indian express news Harsh Vardhan said, “We have enough testing kits available for the next 10 days. We have already ordered enough kits to conduct 56 lakh tests.”

While we are calculating COVID deaths, patients of other diseases have been suffering because of lockdown, because doctors of non-COVID hospitals have not got passes, TB reporting is down. Migrants have died on way home. Will these be counted as COVID deaths?

COVID-19 death is defined as a death resulting from a clinically compatible illness in a probable or confirmed COVID-19 case, unless there is a clear alternative cause of death that cannot be related to COVID disease…. It is evident that patients you are referring to as well as the migrants, who have died on way home, cannot be included in COVID-19 deaths, as per definition. … During my various interactions with state/UT health ministers, I have been stressing that we should continue provision of non-COVID services to needy patients. They are all trying their best. However, I do understand that COVID-19 outbreak has placed unprecedented demands on healthcare systems worldwide, not just in India… There is a risk that the quality of essential health services which communities expect from the health system may get compromised.

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Is it correct that we can have a COVID vaccine as early as September?

The challenges and efforts needed to rapidly develop, evaluate and produce vaccine are enormous. Physicians, funders and manufacturers have come together as part of an international collaboration, coordinated by WHO, to help speed up the availability of a vaccine against COVID-19… A draft landscape of COVID-19 candidate vaccines, developed by WHO, includes seven candidate vaccines in clinical evaluation and another 82 candidate vaccines in pre-clinical evaluation. At the moment, half a dozen Indian firms are making efforts to develop vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Seven vaccines are at various stages of the evaluation process.

What is the status of testing kits?

We have enough testing kits available for the next 10 days. We have already ordered enough kits to conduct 56 lakh tests.

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There are projections of India hitting 2.74 crore cases by August 15. How long will this continue?

A lot of mathematical and epidemiological models on COVID-19 are available right now. We should understand that every such model uses multiple assumptions when actual data is not available, as is the case with this disease outbreak. Hence, most models tend to be purely speculative. Without examining the assumptions that have gone into the formulation of such models, it is not prudent to comment on their speculative outcomes… India has managed to keep the COVID-19 threat under control till date, through proactive and pre-emptive interventions…We will continue to develop plans to flatten the curve, and space out the occurrence of COVID-19 over a longer time period to enable our health systems to respond to the increased clinical workload.

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