New Delhi: There has been a declining trend in COVID-19 cases in the country for the past few months, but a surge in infections cannot be ruled out as the virus is continuously evolving and may have an impact on disease transmission, the government told Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.
The Government of India continues to keep a close watch on the COVID-19 situation in the country as well as across the globe, Minister of State for Health Bharati Pravin Pawar said in a written response to a question.
Responding to a question on whether the government has taken note of the warnings of the health authorities about the third wave of COVID-19 in the country, she said, ”Presently, as reported by states, a declining trend in cases is noted since last few months. However, as the causative virus is continuously evolving, the same may have an impact on COVID-19 transmission and surge in cases cannot be ruled out.” Health is a state subject and the central government is supporting states in their endeavour to manage COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, she said.
Requisite support is being provided to states and union territories to enhance preparedness and response capacities against COVID-19 and other public health emergencies, the minister said, listing steps taken by the government with regard to proper health infrastructure and medicines to combat the intensity of a third wave.
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It has worked towards strengthening healthcare infrastructure, equipping health facilities with requisite logistics including drugs, oxygen and equipment, strengthening disease surveillance at points of entry and in the community, enhancement of laboratory capacities, telemedicine and enhancement of human resource capacities.
Listing some of the interventions, Pawar said that the Ministry of Health continues to provide technical guidance for managing various aspects of COVID-19 and so far more than 150 guidelines/advisories/SoPs/plans have been provided to states and UTs.
Guidelines on clinical management of COVID-19 continues to be updated with emerging scientific evidence and the treatment protocol for adults was last updated on May 24, 2021, and has been widely circulated while the guidelines for the management of COVID-19 in children was issued on June 18, 2021.
The guideline covers guidance on the management of acute presentation of COVID-19 as well as Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C) in children and adolescents found temporally related to COVID-19.
Guidelines and checklists on prevention and clinical management of Mucormycosis were disseminated to all states and UTs, Pawar said.
Also, a comprehensive Guidelines for Management of Post-Covid Sequelae was issued by the ministry on October 21, 2021, after expert consultations to guide doctors on post-COVID-19 complications and their management.
To further provide on-field assistance to the states and UTs, a total of 170 central multidisciplinary teams comprising epidemiologists, clinicians, microbiologists and senior officials from the ministry have been deployed to 33 states and districts reporting increased trajectory of cases.
All states have been advised rational use of oxygen and to prohibit its wasteful usage by strict monitoring and to undertake oxygen consumption audits in hospitals, including private hospitals.
Pawar said the COVID-19 vaccine is made available free of cost for all citizens of the country aged 18 years and above, irrespective of their socio-economic status, at all government vaccination centres. Provisions have been made to improve access for the elderly, specially-abled citizens, vaccination of persons in mental health institutions, destitute and vagabonds.
Under the ‘Har Ghar Dastak’ campaign for improving the COVID-19 vaccination rate, various initiatives, including community awareness campaign in collaboration with local religious and community leaders and NGOs, are being taken to ensure mobilisation and counselling of the eligible population.
Funding support is also being provided to states and UTs through various avenues.
During the financial year 2019-20. funds to the tune of Rs 1,113.21 crore was released to the states and UTs under the National Health Mission (NHM) towards management and containment of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pawar stated.
Since September 2020, the central government has allowed the use of the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) for various COVID-19-related activities.
During 2020-21, funds to the tune of Rs 8,257.88 crore have been released to the states and UTs towards the India COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health System Preparedness Package.
This provided support to states for health infrastructure strengthening, expansion of laboratory network, surveillance and contact tracing, procurement of PPEs, N-95 masks, ventilators, etc., she said.
In addition, India COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health System Preparedness Package: Phase-II has been approved by the Cabinet with Rs 23,123 crore — Rs 15,000 crore as a central component and Rs 8,123 crore as a state component — and is being implemented from July 1 this year.
The PM Ayushman Bharat Health Infrastructure Mission with an outlay of Rs 64,180 crore over six years envisages increased investments in public health and other health reforms to safeguard against future resurgences of COVID-19, if any, and future public health emergencies, she said.
It involves strengthening health and wellness centres in villages and cities for early detection of diseases, the addition of critical care-related beds at district-level hospitals, and the operationalisation of regional National Centres for Disease Control (NCDC).
It also involves strengthening of existing Viral Diagnostic and Research Labs (VRDLs), creation of new National Institutes of Virology (NIVs) and a National Institute for One Health through the Indian Council of Medical Research, and strengthening of public health units at international points of entry, Pawar said.