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COVID-19 lockdown helped us scale up health infra, says Health Minister

The Covid-19 lockdown helped India enhance its healthcare infrastructure to test and treat more people as hospitals increased their daily capacity of dealing with infection cases at least 35 times during this period, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said on Thursday.

“Despite India’s high population density and less support in terms of GDP expenditure on healthcare, India managed to build health infrastructure during lockdown to effectively manage the Covid-19 outbreak. On evaluation we have found that country’s daily handling capacity of Covid-19 cases in hospitals has increased to almost 35 times since pre-lockdown time,” he said at a meeting with Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia. “Our isolation beds have increased by more than 34 times and intensive care unit (ICU) beds have gone up by more than 20 times. The period was utilized to quickly augment the country’s healthcare infrastructure.”

Vardhan said their focus has equally been on ensuring that non-Covid services are not affected. “The health secretary has been regularly conducting review meetings with states, and the situation was being monitored at the highest levels. Adequate instructions were being given to states also for managing non-Covid health conditions.”

He said out of 36 Indian states and Union territories, 33 were performing over 140 Covid-19 tests per million population daily as per WHO’s guidelines. “Only three states are lagging behind as per the latest data available, and we are hopeful that those remaining states will also soon catch up. Our percentage of serious patients needing ventilator, oxygen support or ICU support is also low. It has been much below 5% so our health infrastructure has not been overwhelmed. Our patients are recovering faster, which is a result of concerted efforts and effective clinical management skills of our healthcare staff.”

He said they started with one lab–Pune’s National Institute of Virology in January and now India has 1,366 labs spread across the country that conduct Covid-19 related tests for diagnosis and surveillance purposes. “From having the capacity of performing about 6,000 tests a day in March, the laboratories approved for Covid-19 testing are now performing about 650,000 daily. The way our laboratory network has spread a patient will not take more than three hours to reach a lab for testing from anywhere in the country. That has been our achievement in all these months.”

India has tested at least 20 million samples for Covid-19 since January 22. They include about 2.5 million antigen-based tests.

WHO urged its member countries in the region to maintain and accelerate the resumption of disrupted health-care services, hit by the pandemic.

“The pandemic has put immense strain on health systems across the South-East Asia Region. The previous disease outbreaks have shown that disruption to essential services caused by an outbreak can be more deadly than the outbreak itself. We must fast track efforts and do all we can to avoid that happening while continuing efforts to break Covid-19 transmission chains,” said Singh.

Lalit Kant, a former head of Indian Council of Medical Research’s epidemiology and communicable diseases department, said the lockdown was essentially a strategy to buy time. “By restricting the movement of infected individuals who may or may not be symptomatic, we curtailed the chances of an infected person spreading the infection in the community. In various countries lockdown has been credited for flattening the peak of the epidemic.”

On Thursday, there were 5,95,501 active Covid-19 cases in India and 13,28,336 recoveries. – Hindustan Times

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