Scale up the Covid-19 fight

Kashmir Times. Dated: 4/7/2020 11:49:58 PM

Generating funds is good but spending it wisely in enhancing testing levels manifold is even more important

Though still far away from the necessity of beginning an aggressive fight against Covid-19 as this nation-wide lockdown completes two weeks, two appreciable moves by the Indian government amidst this lockdown need to be taken note of. One, that the ministry of health and family welfare has put testing and treatment of Covid-19 pandemic under Ayushman Bharat–Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana, which means that more than 50 crore citizens, eligible under the government of India’s health assurance scheme will be able to avail free testing through private labs and treatment for Covid-19 in empanelled hospitals. Second, 30 percent cut on salaries of all Members of Parliament and council of ministers for one year, in a bid to increase the money pool for strengthening health-care facilities. Suspension of the MPLADS fund given to parliamentarians to spend on development and welfare of their constituencies for two suspended years, amounting approximately Rs 7,900 crore, will further enhance the resources. However, this may be able to generate only a trickle of the resources needed for a more consistent combat against the Coronavirus. The moot question, however, is the lack of transparency and accountability with respect to the PM Care Fund, created for generating donations for the Covid-19 nation-wide fight, and the manner in which the money being generated is going to be spent. Money generation is only a bit of the battle. The rest is far more important.
With a week left for the lockdown to end, two vital measures have so far been ignored, or at best been treated with a lackadaisical approach. One is safety and food for those rendered jobless and money-less and living in congested areas. The second, and more important, is aggressively enhancing the Covid-19 tests. The progress on both is tardy. The relief measures for the poor are finally afoot but not only are they inadequate for the teeming population of those impacted, there is a huge gap between the announcement and the delivery. Besides, there is no plan on how to relocate the people living in unhygienic shanties to more spacious areas, temporarily, to enable them to maintain physical distance. Once these areas begin to get affected, the enormity and scale of spread of the contagion is difficult to imagine. Other than this, though the government has finally relaxed the criteria for Covid-19 tests that were earlier being conducted solely on those with symptoms and travel histories abroad and community level transmissions are also now being factored in. However, the pace is too tardy. The novel Coronavirus has so far affected 4000 people but the actual number remains unknown because of the extremely low level of testing. As on April 4, only 70,000 people in a country with a population of 1.3 billion were tested for Covid-19 at 132 state-run labs and 52 private labs. The number of tests conducted per day has since been increased to 10,000. Orders for 5 lakh Covid-19 test kits have been placed to further accelerate the pace. But even at this rate, this will still be too meagre as it will cover only a fraction of the population. According to a report, the Indian Council for Medical Research ICMR) is working to scale-up the testing capacity to one lakh a day, but only in the upcoming months as part of its preparedness for a worst case scenario. The country does not have the luxury to wait for coming months. The testing levels need to be enhanced and the resources multiplied by diverting funds and scrapping projects that can be put on hold for the time-being. As per the total funds generated so far, as divulged, PM Care Fund already has more than Rs 10,000 crores. Maximum portion of this must be allocated for ordering more test kits, while going on an over-drive of enhancing capacity to test as well as manufacture of domestic production of the same. Unless the present scale of testing is multiplied, India will not be able to fulfill the desired target of testing, confirming and isolating, which is so vital to contain the spread of the contagion.



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