Covid-19: Letter to the PM from IMFS

Letter from India March for Science to the Prime Minister of India

To
The Prime Minister
Government of India
Sir,
We welcome the measures the government has taken to ensure physical distancing to arrest the
COVID-19 pandemic. However, the experiences of Singapore, South Korea, and Japan have shown that
social distancing by itself does not suffice; it is necessary to embark on testing on a very large scale to
identify and isolate not only the symptomatic patients but also the infected asymptomatic individuals.
Moreover, the country also has to prepare the health-care system to be able to treat millions of patients,
if the situation arises. In this context we would like to put forth a few concrete proposals to deal with
the crisis.

  1. Whenever anybody tests positive, extensive testing has to be done covering the whole
    neighbourhood, the nearby market area, and the places that the individual visited over the past few
    days, at least by random sampling. That will require increasing the rate of testing to a substantially
    higher level compared to what is being done presently. This will require not only a larger number of testkits,
    but also a large number of trained personnel. We propose that unemployed science graduates be
    specially recruited for this purpose and should be trained on a war footing.
  2. Most biology departments in research institutions and universities have RT-PCR machines in BSL2
    facilities which can be used for COVID-19 detection. Faculty and students of many of these institutions
    are prepared to offer their services in this crisis period. Effective steps should be taken to utilize these
    facilities to enhance the testing capability of the nation.
  3. India is lagging way behind in genetic sequencing of the novel coronavirus. We do not have sufficient
    data on which mutated variants of the virus are there in India, neither do we know anything about the
    rate at which it is mutating—all of which are crucial for effective management of the pandemic.
    Therefore, we request you to increase the number of genomic sequencing of the coronavirus isolated
    from Indian patients, and to make the results publicly available.
  4. Isolation wards should be created in district and subdivision-level hospitals, and even in the primary
    health centres, equipping them with the necessary infrastructure to treat COVID-19 patients. The
    government should use the facilities in private hospitals to create special wards to provide free
    treatment to COVID-19 patients. All indoor stadiums and similar indoor spaces should be turned into
    COVID field hospitals. Private doctors, nurses, and semi-skilled helpers should be recruited to serve
    these makeshift hospitals. Complete safety should be ensured for the people serving in these hospitals.
  5. The emerging situation will require large-scale production of PPE gear for health-care personnel, and
    masks and sanitizers for common people. The government should initiate planned production of these
    essential items by requisitioning closed factory spaces and by engaging workers rendered jobless by
    the lock-down.
  6. The nation needs to produce a large number of ventilators in a short time. Many relatively
    inexpensive designs of ventilators (including mechanized Ambu bags) have been proposed by Indian
    investigators. Some international companies have also made their ventilator designs public. Indian
    pharmaceutical companies and other manufacturers should be requisitioned to mass produce such
    ventilators to meet the nation’s requirement. Building an Indian innovation-development-production
    infrastructure is the need of the hour.
  7. Migrant labourers are stuck in different states due to sudden announcement of the lock-down. Most
    of them are living in crowded places and it will not be possible for them to maintain physical distancing
    —a practice necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Central Government should initiate a
    dialogue with the states to provide transit of these helpless people to their home states by means of
    special trains. Once they reach their respective subdivisions, they should be quarantined in primary
    health centres or school buildings for 14 days before allowing them to go home. Adequate financial and
    material support should be provided to daily wage labourers and poor people who have lost their
    livelihood due to the lock-down.
  8. The expenses of the above programmes should be raised by levying taxes on the super-rich, and by
    using Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds of all national and multinational companies—not by
    taxing the common people. Since health is a state subject, the Union Government should allocate
    adequate funds to the states for combating this critical situation. Since research scholars are losing
    valuable research time due to the lock-down, their tenure of fellowship should be extended by at least 6
    months.
    We hope that the government will give due consideration to the above proposals.