Modi government took almost 50-days to realise that the country is facing a huge shortage of life-saving coveralls and N-95 masks to fight the Corona pandemic, reveals documents accessed by National Herald.
After sitting idly for nearly two-months, Modi government held the first inter-ministerial meeting on March 18 to “assess the availability of protective wears for use of health professionals in the country in the wake of Covid-19.”
The document detailing minutes of the meeting that was headed by the secretary (textile) on March 18, records the government’s own failure in these words: “There is a shortage of body cover and N-95 masks. The supply should get prioritized as per the criticality of the situation as arising in different parts of the country”.
“Hence, the supply of the coveralls and N-95 masks should be controlled through the ministry of health and family welfare and the programme should be controlled through the HLL Lifecare Limited,” reads the document.
It also says the order for the production of over 7 lakh body coveralls and 10 lakh N-95 masks have been placed, which as per experts is not sufficient given the size and population of the country.
HLL – a Government of India-owned corporation based in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, manufactures health care products, including condoms, contraceptive pills, IUDs, surgical sutures, blood bags, and Pharma products.
Delayed response by the Modi government, despite having recorded the first coronavirus case on January 30, may send millions to the death trap, says a health expert on condition of anonymity. He said government is persecuting those who dare to raise concerns regarding the shortage of masks and equipment.
Convener of Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum (PMSF), Dr. Harjit Bhati said he couldn’t predict the number of people who may die due to the pandemic, but he questioned the government’s preparedness to fight the outbreak.
Slamming Modi government for taking almost two-months to react to the crisis, Dr Bhati said while health professionals and doctors have 15 per cent chances of being infected with the deadly virus as they are in in direct contact with the patients, the general public has 5 per cent chances of being infected with the virus.
Asserting that timely, pro-active and speedy response can still curb the community transmission, Bhati highlighted these valid points where the government has failed to act promptly:
1. Modi government has not permitted Indian labs verified by the National Institute of Virology (NIV) to produce test kids which is cheaper than the exported from the US till now, due to which poor will suffer the most
2. Central government lacked vision and coordinated efforts to tackle the emergency situation. Despite clear guidelines and instruction from the WHO, Modi government exported masks till March 19 – a day after the first inter-ministerial meeting was held, which was a blunder on part of the central government
3. Lockdown and the imposition of the section-144 has been done at the eleventh hour with no clear instruction/policy to produce masks at mass level.
National Herald reported on March 23 that despite 23 functional mills, Textile Ministry which is headed by Smriti Irani, has no plans to manufacture masks, technical textiles.
Ironically, although the WHO had issued guidelines well in advance on Feb 27 stating there was a shortage of personal protective equipment, NTC CMD convened a meeting only on March 12, 13 days after the guidelines were issued by the WHO, highlights the NH report.
It is relevant to recall here that the country reported the first three cases of the coronavirus in Kerala in January. All three were students who had returned from Wuhan, China. The transmission escalated in the month of March, after several cases were reported all over the country, most of which were linked to people with a travel history to the affected countries.
As on March, 24, according to the data provided by the ministry of health and family welfare, 15,24,266 passengers have been screened at airports, 446 active Covid-19 cases have been reported across India and 36 people are said to have been cured/discharged. At the time of publishing this news, India had reported 9 deaths due to the pandemic, as per the data released by the ministry.