The Centre informed the Supreme Court Tuesday that it has taken “proactive and preemptive timely steps” to deal with the coronavirus pandemic due to which its spread is so far contained but fake news causing serious panic, is the “single most unmanageable hindrance” in the management of this challenge.
In a status report filed in the apex court, the government has given details of the steps taken, including enhancement of testing capacity and issuance of an order to purchase 40,000 ventilators to meet the contingencies, to prevent coronavirus or COVID-19 and its spread in the country.
“It is submitted that as narrated in a subsequent part of this status report, deliberate or inadvertent fake news and/or material capable of causing serious panic in the mind of the population is found to be a single most unmanageable hindrance in the management of this challenge,” it said.
The Centre has said that it would be setting up a separate unit, headed by a joint secretary-level officer in the Ministry of Health and consisting of eminent doctors from recognised institutions like AIIMS, to answer every query of citizens and to provide real-time and true facts regarding COVID-19.
“The detailed modalities in this behalf would immediately be worked out and the details regarding the web portal which can be approached by citizens for the true, genuine, scientific and correct factual position will be displayed immediately,” it said.
The status report was filed by the Centre in two separate pleas which have raised the issue of migration amid coronavirus spread and 21-day lockdown across the country.
In its status report, the government has apprised the apex court about the sequence of steps taken by it after China announced on January 7 about coronavirus.
It said that on January 7 itself, the Union health secretary addressed all state health secretaries to examine and take necessary actions for adequate hospital preparedness to meet “with any possible emergency”.
“On January 18, 2020, thermal screening for detection of fever was started for all passengers coming from China and Hong Kong at three international airports,” the status report said, adding, “By March 4, thermal screening was initiated for all international flights.”
“Very few countries of the world responded as timely the way India responded as a result of which the spread of COVID-19 is capable of being contained in our country so far,” it said.
The Centre also said that India had a “proactive, pre-emptive and graded response to COVID-19″ and they took timely measures in anticipation even before the country had the first confirmed case of coronavirus.
It status report said that on March 19, the Centre decided to stop all international flights with effect from March 22 and the said restrictions have now been extended till April 14.
“It may be pointed out that India started thermal screening of travellers/passengers even before the first case was reported in India while as per the WHO situation report No. 67 dated March 27, 2020, most of the other countries initiated thermal screening in stage II and stage III of the infection in their respective countries,” it said.
The government said that a total of 15.25 lakh passengers were screened at the airports, 40,000 were screened at the 12 major seaports and 65 minor ports and 20 lakh people were screened at all land borders posts.
It said that subsequent to thermal screening at the point of entry, the passengers are further monitored in the community through the “Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme by the union health ministry and this exercise was undertaken in cooperation with the state governments.
It said a list of all passengers, as obtained from Bureau of Immigration, was sent to the states for monitoring international passengers as per medical protocol and the Centre monitored it in collaboration with the state governments.
“So far a total of 3,48,000 passengers are brought under such medical/health monitoring as per such risk profile and symptomatic cases are hospitalized and treated,” it said.
The status report said that India has substantially enhanced testing capacity for COVID-19 on a “war footing” from a single lab in January 2020 at Pune to total 118 labs “operational presently with adequate geographical distribution for testing with a capacity to undertake sampling of 15,000 tests per day”.
It said the Centre has also already coordinated with 47 private laboratory chains, which have more than 20,000 collection centres in the country which will be able to collect the sample for Coronavirus.
It said states have been asked to identify adequate isolation and ICU beds in government, as well as private hospitals and they, are also advised to develop dedicated COVID-19 hospitals or wards on a war footing.
“Several States have already initiated actions to change existing hospitals exclusively dedicated for the COVID-19 treatment and to convert existing unoccupied ‘non-hospital buildings’ into temporary COVID-19 hospitals,” it said.
The Centre has also instructed all the ministries and departments, particularly, Defence, Railways, Para military forces and Labour, to create dedicated COVID-19 blocks or hospitals.
It said that so far, 1.35 lakh isolation beds have already been identified and Rail wagons are also being converted as isolation beds for patients and these numbers are increasing.