Dr. Balram Bhargava, head of the country’s main health agency respond to the coronavirus, said areas reporting high infection rates should be imposed locked down for another six to eight weeks to control the spread of this rampant disease.
What the head of IMCR said
Dr. Bhargava, head of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said in an interview that lockdown restrictions should be maintained in all areas where the infection rate is higher than 10% of the people tested.
Currently, three-quarters of India’s 718 regions have a positive test rate of more than 10%, including major cities such as New Delhi, Bangalore, and Mumbai.
Bhargava’s remarks are the first time a senior government official has outlined how long the lockdown period that has already been imposed in most of the country will take to contain the crisis in India. Due to economic impact, the Narendra Modi government has abandoned the nationwide lockdown and left it to the state governments.
Some states have adopted varying degrees of containment measures on economic and public activities to prevent the spread of the virus. In most cases, it is reviewed and extended every week or every two weeks.
The high positive area should be reserved (closed). If they drop from 10% (positive rate) to 5%, we can open them, but this must happen. Obviously, this will not happen in six or eight weeks, Bhargava said in an interview at the headquarters of ICMR New Delhi, India’s largest medical research institution.
Bhargava said that the capital is one of the worst-hit cities in India. The positive rate has reached about 35%, but it has now fallen to about 17%. If Delhi is opened tomorrow, it will be a disaster.
In the current wave of COVID-19 infections, the country is in a serious crisis, with approximately 3,50,000 cases reported every day and 4,000 deaths. Morgues and hospitals are overflowing, medical staff is exhausted, and oxygen and medicines are in short supply.
Many experts say that the actual case statistics and death toll maybe five to ten times higher. PM Modi and other senior political leaders have received strong public opposition for addressing large-scale election rallies without following major COVID-19 security protocols.
Bhargava did not criticize the Modi government but admitted that the response to the crisis has been delayed. He said: I think our only dissatisfaction is to accept a 10% recommendation with a slight delay, but it did happen.
He said that the April 15 meeting of the National Working Group on COVID-19 made recommendations to the government to impose lockdown in areas with a positive rate of 10% or higher.
However, in a televised speech on April 20, Prime Minister Modi persuaded the states and stated that the lockdown should be used as a last resort and the focus should be on micro containment areas.
On April 26, ten days after the meeting of the working group (task force), the Home Ministry sent a letter to the states asking them to implement strict measures on the large containment areas in the severely affected areas, but only 14 days.
Reuters reported earlier this month that the head of the US National Centers for Disease Control said privately at an online gathering that strict lockdown measures were needed in early April.
Two senior ICMR officials told Reuters that the organization was frustrated that political leaders had issued large gatherings and allowed religious gatherings to be held and that actions of public contempt required security measures.
Modi himself spoke openly at several political meetings.
While referring to the government, an official said that our message is completely incorrect and out of step with the situation. We failed miserably.
Bhargava denied any dissatisfaction and discontent within ICMR, adding that the agency is on the same page as the decision-makers. He did not comment directly on political leaders. He said that mass gatherings held during COVID-19 are not acceptable in India or anywhere else. He said: This is common sense.