New Delhi: Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare answered many inquisitive social media interactors on the sixth episode of Sunday Samvaad. Offering his heartfelt wishes for Navaratri, he exhorted his followers to honour the Prime Minister’s call for Jan Andolan and religiously follow COVID appropriate behaviour becoming its ambassador to others. He reiterated his request to everyone to celebrate at home with their loved ones in the traditional way. “This festive season, charity must take precedence over celebration. My own celebrations too shall remain subdued due to the heart rending impact of COVID19 on lakhs of corona warriors across the world battling for us”, the Union Health Minister stated.
Dr. Harsh Vardhan shared his views on the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Kerala. Noting that between January 30 & May 3, Kerala had reported just 499 cases and 2 deaths due to COVID-19, he regretted that Kerala was paying the price of gross negligence during the recent Onam festivities when State-wise unlocking of services, along with an increase in inter and intrastate travel for trade and tourism, led to the spreading of COVID-19 cases across various districts; “Epicurve of Kerala changed completely due to Onam festivities across the State, the daily new cases nearly doubled.” The Minister said this ought to serve as a good lesson for all the state government which were being negligent in planning for the festival season.
On China’s claim that the novel coronavirus broke out simultaneously in several countries last year, Dr Harsh Vardhan shared that “there is no evidence that can validate the claims on global multiple focal point for the novel coronavirus outbreak”. He stated that Wuhan, China remains recognized as the first report worldwide.
Responding to another question on the market being flooded with oximeters made in China, Dr Harsh Vardhan observed that “consumers should look for FDA/CE approved products with ISO/ IEC specifications while purchasing a pulse oximeter from the market or from the online retailers.” However, he made it clear that a dip in oxygen saturation level is not a COVID-19 symptom, as it may happen due to other underlying medical conditions as well.
Dr Harsh Vardhan assured that as of yet, no mutation of coronavirus has been detected in India, which is either more transmission efficient or more pathogenic.
In a follow-up to a question from the last episode, he was asked on the Phase II of the COVID-19 grants to states. The Minister shared that the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has already released the Phase II of the COVID Package to 33 States and Union Territories. The total amount released in the second package amounts to a total of INR 1352 Crores. This Phase II grant has been released in tranches during the months of August, September and October 2020.
Dr Harsh Vardhan expressed his satisfaction that his Ministry is not far behind in the shift to online education in midst of the pandemic. Medical colleges and institutions in India are conducting online classes for MBBS students which have been approved by the National Medical Commission. Ministry of Health & Family Welfare had also issued Standard Operating Procedures on professional training for medical post-graduate students in the context of COVID-19.
He rekindled the joy of having morning tea in a respondent by reassuring him that there is no scientific evidence that proves that novel coronavirus transmission can happen via newspapers. He shared that reading newspapers is completely safe even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Answering a question on the discrepancy in the number of COVID-19 deaths across India, Dr Harsh Vardhan shared that the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare has taken up the issue of correct certification of COVID-19 deaths with all States and UTs on multiple instances and has also shared a proper modality of reporting of deaths with them to ensure consistency in reporting of COVID-19 related deaths across India.
The Minister assured that there is no shortage in Medical Oxygen; Current oxygen production capacity of India is around 6400 MT/Day; the Government is ready to scale up the production capacity in order to meet any further increase in demand arising due to the Pandemic; The Empowered Group constituted by MHA is monitoring the requirement of medical oxygen across India; The Ministry of Health is also monitoring the availability and supply of Medical Oxygen at the field level through regular VC with State Nodal officers for oxygen as well as with Principal Secretaries or Mission directors; 1,02,400 Medical Oxygen Cylinders have been delivered to States and UTs; The National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority has fixed the price of Liquid Medical Oxygen; Guidelines on ‘Rational use of Oxygen for management of COVID-19’ have also been issued.
Dr Harsh Vardhan remarked that although there are no intranasal COVID-19 vaccines under trial in India at the moment, Serum India and Bharat Biotech are expected to pursue clinical trials of such vaccines in India in the coming months on receipt of regulatory approval. He clarified that the Phase III Clinical Trial is generally with thousands of participants, sometimes even close to 30,000 to 40,000 participants. It is possible that from a specific city or hospital, couple of hundred participants are selected at a given time, but in general, the overall Phase III participant pool is much larger.
Sharing details on the Special Drive for ADVERSE Drug Reaction (ADR) reporting and monitoring of drugs used in COVID-19, Dr Harsh Vardhan clarified that this special drive is not because of an adverse reaction reported with an existing drug, but is part of a proactive COVID-19 preparedness programme.
The Union Minister for Science & Technology, and Earth Science explained that the Integrated Flood Warning Systems developed for Mumbai and Chennai are city-specific prediction systems to cater the needs of coastal cities which will be extended to Kolkata. For states like Assam and Bihar, that have river-based floods, Central Water Commission generates flood warning based on the rainfall forecast provided by IMD.
Sharing an update on the demonstration plant developed by CSIR-IIP and GAIL in Dehradun that he inaugurated in 2019, the Minister apprised the audience that at full capacity utilization, it can produce about 800 litres of BS-VI quality diesel per day from 1000 kg waste plastics.
The Minister said that in the last six years, the Department of Science and Technology through its various schemes especially targeting women scientists, has contributed to improving gender ratio and the improvement is evident today specially at the lower level in scientific establishments. Not only has the percentage of women contributing to science education at the school level increased significantly, but also the percentage of women in government laboratories has also increased.
In order to further improve the situation, the DST is increasingly boosting its interventions for the participation of women in S&T at multiple levels through various new schemes.