A file photo of Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan. | Harsh Vardhan via Twitter

Coronavirus: Lockdown helped prevent 29 lakh cases and 78,000 deaths, claims health minister

He added that constant monitoring of disease trends, analysis of available infrastructure and advance planning averted a major crisis like in other countries.


Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan told the Lok Sabha on Monday that the lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus led to the prevention of 14 lakh to 29 lakh cases and saved the lives of 37,000 to 78,000 people.

The minister said India has been able to limit its cases to 3,328 per million (10 lakh), and deaths to 55 per million, which, he added, were some of the lowest figures in the world. He claimed that this was possible due to a “whole of government and whole of society” approach.

“These four months were utilised to create additional health infrastructure, enhance human resource and produce within India critical elements such as personal protective equipment, N-95 masks and ventilators,” Vardhan said. “A case in point is the increase in dedicated isolation beds 36.3 times and dedicated ICU beds above 24.6 times to what existed in March 2020.” He added that India has gone from a country that did not manufacture PPE at all to one that is now self-sufficient.

The minister noted that Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, West Bengal, Bihar, Telangana, Odisha, Assam, Kerala and Gujarat have all reported more than one lakh cases.

“Many of the epidemiological parameters such as mode of transmission, subclinical infection, period of virus shedding, role of immunity etc. are still being researched,” Vardhan said. “Once a person is exposed to the infection, the disease may develop anytime between 1-14 days. The main symptoms of Covid are fever, cough, and difficulty in breathing.” Vardhan said that in 92% of the cases in India, the disease was mild. In only 5.8% cases, oxygen therapy was required and in 1.7%, the illness was severe enough to require intensive care.

“The Government of India undertook the Covid-19 challenge with the highest level of political commitment,” the health minister asserted. “It has been estimated that this decision [to lock down the country] prevented approximately 14–29 lakh cases and 37–78 thousand deaths.”

Group of Ministers to help contain virus

The government has constituted a Group of Ministers comprising of the minister for external affairs, minister of civil aviation, minister of state for home affairs, minister of state for shipping and minister of state for health and family welfare, to help contain the spread of the disease, Vardhan said. The group has met 20 times since its inception on February 3, he added.

“As on 12th September, 2020, a total of 15,284 Covid treatment facilities with 13,14,646 dedicated isolation beds without oxygen have been created,” Vardhan said. “Also, a total of 2,31,093 oxygen supported isolation beds and 62,717 ICU beds [including 32,575 ventilator beds] have been created.” He added that India now has 12,826 quarantine centres with 5,98,811 beds.

The health minister said that constant monitoring of the disease trends, analysis of available infrastructure and advance planning has averted a major crisis like that faced by some developed nations. The minister said that while guidelines on treatment of the coronavirus have been regularly issued, treatment has been symptomatic, as no specific antivirals have worked so far.

Drugs being used to treat coronavirus

Hydroxychloroquine is being used to treat mild and moderate but high-risk cases, he said. “In addition, provisions for investigational therapies has also been made for using Remdesivir, convalescent plasma and Tocilizumab for managing severe cases under close medical supervision,” Vardhan added.

The health minister also said that 13 clinical trials of repurposed drugs as well as “harnessing of traditional knowledge using the modern medicine approach” have taken place, to create several therapeutic options for coronavirus patients. “Phase 2 clinical trial of immunomodulator Sepsivac has been completed successfully,” he said. “Phase 2 clinical trial of the first-ever phytopharmaceutical ACQH is under way.”

Vardhan said that out of the 145 vaccine candidates being tested around the world, 30 are being tried in India. He said three candidates are in advanced stage of Phase 1, 2 or 3 trials. On Sunday, Vardhan had said that the first vaccine will be ready by the first quarter of 2021, and that he would personally take the first dose.

Vardhan said the Centre’s effort is to create an “Atma Nirbhar Bharat” (self-reliant India) which will enable India to take care of future epidemics and disasters. “I would urge all honourable members of Parliament that battle for Covid is still far from over,” Vardhan concluded. “On one hand, when we are in stage of Unlock so as to revive economy, and have a balanced approach, it is important that sustained community support is ensured consistently to control the spread of Covid infection & break its chain of transmission.”

India’s coronavirus case count on Monday rose to 48,46,428 with 92,071 new cases. The toll rose by 1,136 to 79,722. As many as 37,80,108 people have recovered from the infection.