India speeds towards 2 million cases, minister says Covid spread contained


India’s health minister Harsh Vardhan Thursday asserted that the spread of coronavirus has been contained in the country.

His remarks came even as India sped towards the grim mark of two million Covid cases. It has already logged over 40,000 deaths and is recording more than 50,000 daily cases of Covid-19 for the past few days.

Vardhan, however, cited how half the total cases were from just three states and another 30 percent from seven others.

He was speaking at a virtual meeting of Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO’s regional director, South East Asia, with health ministers from the region on maintaining essential health services and public health programs in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Harsh Vardhan claimed the Indian government’s containment strategy has been successful: “The strategy has been successful in that 50 percent of the cases are from three states and 32 percent of the rest are from seven states. The spread of the virus thus has been contained.”

The minister said that the lockdown was effective in slowing down the rate of growth of cases and gave the government time to augment the health infrastructure and testing facilities.

“From one lab in January, India has 1,370 labs today. Indians anywhere can access a lab within three hours travel time. 33 of the 36 states and UTs (Union Territories) exceed WHO’s recommendation of testing 140 people per million per day.”

However, WHO chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan said Tuesday that India’s testing rate is low when compared to other countries which have done well in combating the Covid-19 pandemic.

Harsh Vardhan also said that the country was “preparing for the pandemic as soon as China informed the World Health Organization on January 7”, over three weeks before the first case emerged in India.

India had reported its first coronavirus case January 30 when a student from Kerala, who was studying in China’s Wuhan University, came back to India and tested positive for the deadly virus.

Harsh Vardhan also stressed that earlier viral outbreaks like the avian influenza, H1N1, zika and nipah had provided institutional memory in designing containment and management strategies.

“India’s proactive and graded multi-level institutional response to Covid-19 made it possible to have very low cases per million and deaths per million in spite of having a high population density, and low fractional GDP spending, per capita doctor, and hospital bed availability as compared to other developed countries,” he contended.