Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Sunday stated that there has been no significant or drastic mutation in strains of SARS-CoV-2 (a virus that causes coronavirus) found in India till now. He also said the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has been conducting large-scale sequencing of nationally representative strains collected over a few months and detailed results on mutations of the virus will be available in early October.
Replying to queries during the ‘Sunday Samvad’ platform, Vardhan further said enough oxygen is being produced in the country and the health ministry is closely monitoring the situation.
He took the occasion to remind everyone that the ministry had dispatched oxygen concentrators to the rural parts of the country specifically to avert the logistic issues coming to light, a health ministry statement said.
On the recent saliva-based test for COVID-19, Vardhan noted that ICMR has validated a few tests, but no reliable test has been found and companies with tests approved by US-FDA have still not approached the Government of India.
The minister added that ICMR is actively exploring this test method and will inform as soon as reliable options are available, the statement said.
To a question regarding the Centre’s achievement of engineering polio eradication in India, he reminded the audience that coronavirus is a novel pathogen and unlike polio, literature is absent on it.
India’s handling of outbreaks in the past such as SARS, Ebola and Plague will play a major role in containing coronavirus, Vardhan said.
“The Union Minister assured another follower that no significant or drastic mutations have been found in strains of SARS-CoV-2 in India (available in GISAID, global database), till now,” the statement said.
The ICMR has been conducting large-scale sequencing of nationally representative strains of SARS-CoV-2 virus collected over the past several months over different time-points and detailed results on mutations and evolution of the virus will be available in early October, Vardhan said.
Vardhan said 155 families of COVID Warriors have claimed relief under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package: Insurance Scheme for Health Workers Fighting COVID-19.
These include 64 doctors, 32 auxiliary nurse midwives and multipurpose healthcare workers, 14 ASHA workers and 45 other frontline workers who lost their lives.
He also noted that it would take a substantive amount of time for developing herd immunity to be able to cover about 70 per cent of the population.
Hence the focus of the government is primarily towards putting together a strategy that combines containment and hospital management, the minister said.
Being a doctor himself, Vardhan answered questions on the clinical management of COVID-19 in great detail dispelling myths surrounding the use of hydroxychloroquine and plasma therapy in treating coronavirus patients.
He also explained to his audience how coronavirus becomes fatal for the elderly and those with comorbidity.
He also dispelled fears caused by the suspension of trials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine candidate, saying vaccine development is a complex process and trials have restarted only after an independent investigative expert committee permitted them to proceed.
“He explained the difference between various vaccines under clinical trial in India and that since formulations, doses, route of administration are different for the vaccines, their mechanisms of action are also different.
“However, the desirable outcome of each vaccine is much the same, that is ensuring healthy individuals with immunity against the novel coronavirus,” the statement said.
During the Sunday Samvaad, he shared several tips for the mental wellbeing of senior citizens.
About concrete measures planned to handle such public health emergencies in the future, Vardhan said, the ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’ will strengthen the nation to an extent where “we will be able to overcome any eventuality including another pandemic”.
The health minister said ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ underlines the government’s commitment for increased investments in public health and other health reforms to prepare India for future pandemics.
A major proposal under consideration at the Expenditure Finance Committee level includes strengthening surveillance of infectious diseases and outbreak response including that for points of entry, the establishment of dedicated infectious disease management hospital blocks in district hospitals and Integrated Public Health Laboratories, he added.
Vardhan also spoke on the role of traditional medicine in the present context and informed those who attended the ‘Samvad’ event that the AYUSH Ministry has developed research protocols for validating claims of various Ayush practitioners for COVID-19 solutions although no formulation has been validated as a specific drug.
Vardhan also answered queries regarding India’s plan to divert human resource to science and the role of government policy in achieving a clean environment witnessed during the coronavirus-induced lockdown.
Reminding the audience that India is the world’s number one country in producing engineering and science graduates every year, he said that as per the latest estimate, India has as many as 3.42 Lakh full-time equivalent researchers, out of which nearly 50 per cent are young and below 45 years, 16 per cent are women.