New Delhi: Harsh Vardhan, the Union Minister of Health & Family Welfare, chaired the 22nd meeting of the High-level Group of Ministers (GoM) on Covid-19 by a video-conference on Saturday, 19th December. He was joined by S. Jaishankar, Minister of External Affairs; Hardeep Puri, Minister of Civil Aviation; Ashwini Kumar Choubey, Minister of State (MoS), Health & Family Welfare; Nityanand Rai, MoS, Ministry of Home Affairs. Also present virtually were Vinod Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog; and Amarjeet Sinha and Bhaskar Khulbe, advisors to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to a statement from the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW).
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan began the meet by expressing deep gratitude to all Covid-19 warriors who have been steadfast in their duty without any fatigue throughout the pandemic which is in its twelfth month, stated the MoHFW. He also informed his colleagues of the gains made by the country’s public health system against the Novel Coronavirus and the encouraging results so far. “India’s Covid-19 pandemic growth has dropped to 2% and the case fatality rate is amongst the lowest in the world at 1.45%,” he stated, adding, “India’s Recovery Rate has peaked to 95.46% while the strategy of testing 1 million samples has decreased the Cumulative Positivity Rate to 6.25%.”
Stating that despite festivals in the months of October and November, no new surge of cases was observed in this period due to comprehensive testing, tracking, and treatment policy implemented on the ground, the Union Health Minister and Chairperson of the GoM reiterated his concern and appeal to diligently maintain Covid-appropriate behaviour even at a time when the country is at the cusp of authorising the first set of vaccines. He also expressed the need for an expeditious vaccination drive to cover all the target populations, estimated to be around 30 crores.
Sujeet Singh, Director (NCDC), presented a detailed report on how the data-driven graded government policies have helped India achieve significant control over the pandemic. He showed figures related to a number of cases, a number of deaths, their growth rate, and how they compared favourably to the rest of the world which is witnessing a meteoric rise in these parameters. He presented a granular analysis of the trajectory of the pandemic in each state pointing out critical parameters like positivity, RAT & RT-PCR percent breakup, the concentration of cases in particular districts and other trends like fatalities within 48 and 72 hours of hospitalisation. He also presented data on the total dedicated Covid-19 facilities in the country.
The Health Ministry stated that through a detailed presentation, NITI Aayog Member Vinod Paul apprised the GoM of three critical aspects of vaccination: the process of the pre-clinical and clinical trials of all vaccines, the details of the six vaccine candidates undergoing trial in India (in terms of composition, manufacturers and technical partners, numbers of doses, conditions for storage and efficacy) and the composition of target populations in India, in terms of age, occupation and co-morbidities and how they compare with other countries and WHO’s recommendations. He also briefed the GoM about requests for vaccines received by the Ministry of External Affairs from 12 other countries.
Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan noted the importance of health seeking behaviour among the population as a key driver in checking fatality. Explaining the paradox of some states & UTs reporting very high cases but minimal fatalities while others reported low cases but comparatively high fatalities, he said this phenomenon results from people not coming forward for testing even if they are symptomatic in the second category of states. People in states & UTs with a vibrant public healthcare system are tracked and encouraged to be tested by grassroots health workers which inhibits the progress of Covid-19 in the patient to an advanced stage which allows these states to keep their fatality rate at a minimum. In this regard, he apprised the Ministers of the Government’s policy of testing on demand; people can opt to test themselves without a prescription if they are symptomatic. He also highlighted the importance of IEC activities to instill health-seeking behaviour among the population in states & UTs reporting high deaths.
Ravi Capoor, Secretary (Textiles); S. Aparna, Secretary (Pharma); Amitabh Kant, CEO NITI Aayog; Govind Mohan, Addl. Secretary (Home Affairs); Dammu Ravi, Addl. Secretary (MEA); Arun Kumar, DGCA (Civil Aviation); Amit Yadav, DG, Foreign Trade (DGFT); Sunil Kumar, DGHS; and other senior government officials participated through virtual media. Dr. Samiran Panda (NICED) represented the Office of DG (ICMR).
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