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India Still Has An Opportunity To Get Things Right Says Margaret Harris Of WHO

The death of a 72-year old man in Punjab has taken the Coronavirus death toll in India to 4. Another Indian citizen has also lost his life in Iran where 255 infected Indians are currently stranded.

The number of Coronavirus cases in India have now risen to 180 with over 160 active cases. Maharashtra, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh have reported fresh cases on Thursday. Maharashtra remained the worst hit state in the country with 49 cases so far.

The government moved to close the borders and international flights will not be allowed to land for a week starting March 22.

States have been told to advise those above 65 years to stay indoors. The same applies to those below 10 years.

Health ministry officials say there is no evidence to prove community transmission so far and laid out the government’s plan to bolster the efforts to test samples.

Several countries are working on vaccination for Coronavirus, and some of them have reported considerable progress. The World Health Organisation has commended these efforts.

The director-general of WHO said, “The first vaccine trial has begun, just 60 days after the genetic sequence of the Coronavirus was shared. This is an incredible achievement. We commend the researchers around the world who have come together to systemically evaluate experimental therapeutics.”

Chennai-based Trivitron Healthcare could be the first company in India to make an indigenous ready-to-use kit to test Coronavirus. The company aims to supply the kit at a much cheaper rate of Rs 500 per test. The test right now costs about Rs 6,000. Trivitron is awaiting the approval from the authorities.

To discuss these developments Shereen Bhan spoke to Margaret Harris, spokesperson at WHO and GSK Velu, CMD at Trivitron.

Harris said, “We have had some very good news from China, Wuhan has managed to bring its cases down to zero at this point but that doesn’t mean that they are out of the woods yet. However, it does give us hope that the methods they used intensively really do work.”

Harris further added, “Now the epicentre has shifted to Europe. We are seeing health systems overwhelmed and that is what you don’t want to have happen in India. India still has a good window of opportunity and now is the time to really make the most of that and be ready, prepared and put into place all the things we know can avert that kind of huge outbreak.”

“Restricting movement gives people a chance to do what we call physical distancing. If you have to go to work all the time, if you have to take your kids to school, if your kids are in school, then they can’t avoid being close together. Physical distancing means being able to stay 2 metres apart, not being so close that any droplets that somebody might be infected with pass to you”, Harris added.

Velu said, “We have the primers, probes manufactured in China coming already with us which we are trying to validate but we are also parallelly manufacturing with Indian sources the primers, master mix and also the probes. So, that kit we would like to send for validation next week to National Institute of Virology and with that we hope that prices come down.”

Velu further added, “We are looking at it as more like corporate social responsibility rather than making big margin out of this product. In this kind of crisis the cost is also one of the big considerations.”

“I do not think Rs 6,000 per test is a sustainable cost for government to do mass scale testing. We don’t know at what price government is sourcing at this point of time but we will be approaching the government and I am sure more such initiatives will happen in India, so that we can ensure that everything is manufactured in India rather than we being dependent on imported sources for doing mass scale testing.”

“Currently, we have just imported 10,000 tests but we can get it from our Chinese joint venture partners as much as we need, 100000 or 1 million or whatever, they have the possibility to do it. Our current production capacity is anywhere between 500000 to 750000 tests per day”, Velu added.-CNBC