GoM calls for closing down most public places

Maitri Porecha/Meenakshi Verma Ambwani New Delhi | Updated on March 16, 2020 Published on March 16, 2020

Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare addressing a press briefing on COVID-19 preparedness and updates, in New Delhi on Monday   -  PTI

Testing capacity for the virus expanded; fixed prices for masks and sanitisers soon

The five-member Group of Ministers (GoM) on prevention and management of COVID-19 headed by Minister of Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan has proposed closing down all schools, universities, gyms, museums, cultural and social centres, swimming pools and theatres.

In a parallel move, the Centre, in what can be a relief to worried citizens, has decided to ramp up its novel coronavirus (COVID-19) preparedness by importing nearly 10 lakh probes from Germany, required to conduct diagnostic testing in individuals.

Also doing its bit is the All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists, which sought fixing of maximum retail price of sanitisers and masks.

India has till date conducted 9,100 tests of those who are symptomatic and have a travel history to Corona-affected countries as also those who came in contact with the ones who travelled. While the situation is fast evolving, currently the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) is not testing everyone who is symptomatic.

R Gangakhedkar, Head, Epidemiology at Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said that nuanced guidelines for health care workers for diagnostic testing from the Health Ministrycan be expected soon.

“We are making sure we have enough stocks to cater to symptomatic patients in case we reach Stage three of community transmission. Right now we are at Stage two of local transmission as only those in contact with persons having travel history are showing up at hospitals with symptoms and testing positive,” said Gangakhedkar.

Also results of close to 140 random samples from 51 labs for those exhibiting pneumonia-like condition picked from Intensive Care Units (ICUs) of patients that have no travel or contact history are expected on Wednesday, ICMR stated.

Travel curbs

The Health Ministry has said that travel of passengers from member countries of European Union, the European Free Trade Association, Turkey and United Kingdom to India is prohibited from March 18 till March 31.

“No airline shall board a passenger from these nations to India with effect from 1200 GMT on 18th March 2020. The airline shall enforce this at the port of initial departure,” said Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary at the Health Ministry.

The Ministry has also said that passengers coming or transiting from the UAE, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait will have to be compulsorily quarantined from March 18.

Earlier, the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA), had sought information on surgical and protective masks and hand sanitisers from their manufacturers and importers by Tuesday. Sources said that the government may fix the maximum retail price of these products soon.

Representatives of AIOCD met the Ministry officials urging them to fix maximum retail price of these products. Rajiv Singhal, General Secretary, of AIOCD said, “We have also assured MoHFW that we will ensure that black marketing of hand sanitisers and masks does not happen in the country. We have already sent an advisory to our members not to sell and stock face masks and sanitizers without MRP.”

In its advisory to the members, AIOCD has asked its members to “ensure they buy goods with the bill and sell the goods by issuing bill.” It has also asked them to “maintain a purchase record of the sale of face masks and sanitisers” and “provide information about the black marketers at the district and State level.”

The Ministry of Consumer Affairs has notified hand sanitisers and masks as Essential Commodity. Now the MoHFW has to list it as an Essential Drug for the NPPA to fix MRP of the products under the Drug Price Control Order.

Former NPPA Chairman Bhupendra Singh said that the ministries — Health, Pharmaceuticals and Consumer Affairs — should work in unison to ensure this. “We are fearing that companies are jacking up MRPs of these products. When condoms, paracetamols, and vitamins are under price control, why not hand sanitizers and masks,” said Singh.

Published on March 16, 2020
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