COVID-19 outbreak: Centre blames supply chain disruption for shortage of PPEs

WHO urges govts of lockdown countries to ramp up testing

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 26 March 2020

The Union government admitted for the first time that it faced problems getting personal protective equipment (PPE) for doctors and other health workers to deal with the public health emergency from the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

This admission comes after a warning given by the World Health Organization (WHO) on January 30, 2020, asking governments across the world to ramp up the production of PPEs, ventilators and testing kits.

“Yes, there is a problem with the availability but that is due to challenges in importing raw materials due to supply chain disruption,” said Lav Agarwal, the joint secretary for the ministry of health and family welfare, at a press conference on March 25.

The delay in taking vital measures to enhance preparedness was because India had “a graded response” to the emergency, said Agarwal.

“Earlier the epicentre was in Wuhan. This is not the case anymore. As the situation of the disease evolved in the world, we changed our strategy,” he added.

The stockpile of ventilators and PPEs in the country was not revealed, despite repeated queries.

The centre’s decision to stop elective surgeries to free up ventilators to tackle the disease was re-iterated, according to a source.

“If need be, we would ask hospitals to deploy ventilators from other wards of hospitals for the time being,” he said.

The kind of PPEs to be used to deal with the spread of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) infection was being analysed, he said.

The centre had banned the export of PPEs and N95 masks on January 31.

The ban on PPEs was lifted on February 9. The centre, however, re-introduced the ban on March 19.

Down To Earth asked Agarwal the rationale behind the time period for the nation-wide lockdown, called by the centre on March 25, and whether more or fewer days would cut transmission of the virus.

The ban was done “in public good”, he said, avoiding a direct answer.

Is centre in sync with WHO?

The WHO on March 25 re-iterated that lockdown measures would be no good if simultaneous public health measures were not undertaken.

The statement came after several countries across the world called for complete lockdowns.

India had less than 600 cases when this decision was taken, while UK’s count had crossed 8,000.

At the centre of these measures, is the need to ramp up testing.

India has so far tested 22,038 samples against 400,000 tests in Germany, 67,000 in the US, 296,964 in Italy and 83,945 in UK.

Indian government officials claimed 12,000 samples can be tested per day in 118 government labs on March 25.

“However, we do not feel the need of increasing the number as it may lead to indiscriminate testing,” Agarwal said.

An example to the contrary, however, was seen in South Korea and Singapore, who found more cases by sampling, instead of calling for blanket lockdowns.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the lockdowns would not extinguish epidemics and asked countries to use a “second window of opportunity”.

The first such window was in early January and February when China attempted to contain the disease outbreak and the world was largely insulated.

“We call on all countries who have introduced so-called lockdown measures to use this time to attack the virus,” he said at a press conference.

He elaborated on the measures countries should take, as follows:

  • Expand, train and deploy health care and public health workforce
  • Implement a system to find every suspected case at community level
  • Ramp up production, capacity and availability of testing
  • Identify, adapt and equip facilities uses to treat and isolate patients
  • Develop a clear plan and process to quarantine contacts
  • Refocus the government on suppressing and controlling COVID-19

These measures are the best way to suppress and stop transmission so that when restrictions are lifted, the virus doesn’t emerge again, he said.

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