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Govt points to ‘self-reliance’ as Oppn slams Covid management

Congress leader Manish Tewari alleged that the WHO chair is currently held by Health Minister Harshvardhan and that a joint team of WHO and China have absolved India’s eastern neighbour from the accusations of spreading the virus across the world.

Written by Deeptiman Tiwary , Avishek G Dastidar | New Delhi |
March 18, 2021 3:17:39 am
Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan in Lok Sabha. (PTI)

The Opposition targeted the Centre over its handling of the pandemic while accusing it of absolving China from its blame for the spread of the coronavirus, during a discussion over Demands For Grants for the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday.

However, the government said that its handling of the pandemic has made the country self-reliant and “future ready”.

Congress leader Manish Tewari alleged that the WHO chair is currently held by Health Minister Harshvardhan and that a joint team of WHO and China have absolved India’s eastern neighbour from the accusations of spreading the virus across the world.

“We are witnessing the second wave of coronavirus infections. Covid-19 originated in Wuhan in November 2019. At that time China locked down its own city but allowed international flights… Even WHO was completely negligent… Now we see a joint team of WHO and China have absolved the Chinese for the origin and proliferation of coronavirus. They have ruled out the hypothesis that it could have spread due to a lab experiment. WHO is currently chaired by India. The health minister of India is the chair,” Tewari said.

“This whitewash is happening with the connivance of India. This is a very serious matter. I would like to urge him that please ensure that the investigation into the origin and proliferation of coronavirus does not become a whitewash of the culpability of China. I do hope that India will not be found wanting in this,” the Congress MP from Punjab said.

While replying to the discussion, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said that India has become self reliant in terms of testing of the virus, production of masks, PPE kits, ventilators and now, the vaccine. “We believe technology can be local but science is global; its benefits should go to the entire world. We are not giving vaccine to other countries at the cost of our own requirement. These things are being overseen by a team of experts,” he told the Lok Sabha.

Tewari also raised the issue of tardy progress in the government’s vaccination drive and said that if the pace was not quickened, a lot of vaccines would go waste.

“If vaccination continues like this then 25% of vaccines stocked by the Serum Institute will go waste by April. Is it okay to send vaccines to other countries at the cost of our own people,” Tewari said, asking if this vaccine diplomacy was fair.

Talking further about COVID-19 vaccination, Vardhan said as many as 3.5 crore people have been given the jab, adding that India has so far accounted for 36 per cent of the total vaccinations conducted across the globe.

“Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the expenditure on health as a percentage of GDP has increased from 1.3 per cent in 2014 to 1.8 per cent in 2020-21,” he said.

Congress leader Tiwari also raised questions over the efficacy of the lockdown. “Couldn’t the government adopt a micro containment strategy? Within four days lockdown was broken and crores of migrants walked to their homes and so many people died,” Tewari said. “The irony is that economists became epidemiologists and the latter became economists. So while covid curve could not be flattened, economy was flattened,” Tewari added.

Tewari also asked why the government could not get new laws like so many countries in the West did during the pandemic. He said the budget had failed to meet the expectations of a pandemic year and only 1 per cent of GDP was being spent on health. “It has to be increased to at least 3 per cent,” he said.

Dr Sanjeev Kumar Singari of YSRCP said the government was wasting money on vaccination when people had already acquired immunity.

“The government is spending Rs 34,000 crore on Covid vaccination. This is a waste of money and should be diverted to primary health care. The vaccine is not effective in the long term,” Singari said. He also said permission to Ayurvedic doctors to conduct 12 different surgeries was a “man made catastrophe”.

DNV Senthil Kumar of DMK pointed out that developed countries spend up to 8 per cent of GDP on health.

Dr GR Reddy of TRS said that funds allocated for family welfare have come down in the budget. Dr Srikant Shinde of Shiv Sena said that 137 per cent increase in health budget being tom-tommed by the government was largely due to budget increase in drinking water and sanitation and not in health and family welfare.

SP’s ST Hasan questioned why the government had allowed surgeries for BAMS but not for BUMS when the only difference between Ayurveda and Unani medical practice is that the latter is in Arabic and Persian.

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