India’s response to COVID-19 was widely appreciated as it has been pre-emptive, pro-active and graded as the Best among the 195 countries fighting with the dreaded virus.
India had already put in place it’s comprehensive response system at its borders much before WHO declared it as a public health emergency of international concern on January 30, 2020.
Screening of incoming air passengers followed by suspension of visas and a ban on international flights was done much ahead of any other country. Thermal screening of incoming international passengers from China and Hong Kong was started on 18th January, much before the first case of Coronavirus was detected in India on January 30th 2020.
A look at the global scenario would highlight that Italy and Spain, which are devastated by COVID-19, had started screening of travellers 25 days and 39 days respectively after first reported case.
Central Government took a number of proactive measures, such as travel restrictions, adding more countries and airports for screening, suspension of visas and self-quarantine measures to effectively contain, prevent and manage the spread of the disease. A chronology of the decisions taken so far is as follows:
- Jan17 – Advisory issued to avoid travel to china
- Jan 18 – thermal screening of passengers from China and Hong Kong
- Jan 30 – strong advisory issued to avoid travel to China.
- Feb 3 – E- visa facility suspended for Chinese citizens.
- Feb 22 – Advisory issued to avoid travel to Singapore; Universal screening for flights from Kathmandu, Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia.
- Feb 26 – Advisory issued to avoid travel to Iran, Italy and the Republic of Korea. Passengers coming from these countries to be screened, and maybe quarantined based on screening and risk assessment.
- March 3 – Suspension of all visas for Italy, Iran, South Korea, Japan and China; Compulsory health screening for passengers arriving directly or indirectly from China, South Korea, Japan, Iran, Italy, Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nepal, Thailand, Singapore and Taiwan.
- March 4 – Universal screening of all International Flights. Quarantine or isolation at home or sent to hospital-based on screening and risk profile
- March 5 – Passengers from Italy or Republic of Korea need to get a medical certificate before entry
- March 10 – Home isolation: incoming international passengers should self-monitor health and follow govt. Dos and Don’ts: passengers with travel history to China, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea, Japan, Italy, Thailand, Singapore, Iran, Malaysia, France, Spain and Germany to undergo home quarantine for a period of 14 days from the date of their arrival
- March 11 – Compulsory Quarantine- Incoming travellers (including Indians) arriving from or having visited China, Italy, Iran, Republic of Korea, France, Spain and Germany after 15th February 2020 shall be quarantined for a minimum period of 14 days.
- March, 16, 17 & 19 – Comprehensive advisory:
- March 16 – Expanded compulsory quarantine for travellers from or through UAE, Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait for a minimum of 14 days. Travel of passengers from member countries of the European Union, the European Free Trade Association, Turkey and the United Kingdom to India totally prohibited
- March 17 – Travel of passengers from Afghanistan, Philippines, Malaysia prohibited
- March 19 – All Incoming international flights suspended, with effect from March 22
- March 25 – Extension of the suspension of all incoming International Flights to India extended till 14th April 2020.
With the evolving global spread of disease, not only travel advisories were revised, but airport screening was also expanded to all airports.
After being screened by health authorities at the airports, passengers were quarantined or sent to hospitals, based on risk assessment by health authorities. Details of even those who were cleared by health authorities were shared with the state government authorities so that they can be kept under the surveillance of their respective state/UT governments for the required number of days.
Screening of passengers took place at 30 airports, 12 major and 65 minor pots and at land borders. Over 36 lakh passengers have been screened.
The statement that ‘prosperous Indians’ were allowed to return without screening, is preposterous. The government took swift action to put in a place a comprehensive and robust system of screening, quarantine and surveillance are part of its robust response to the public health crisis right from the beginning. This covered every traveller, Indians returning after business, or tourism, students as well as foreigners.
State governments have been regularly requested to maintain and further improve upon this surveillance so that the coverage is complete and there are no gaps. A meticulous system has enabled states to track down individuals who tried to avoid surveillance or who did not follow quarantine measures.us
As many as 20 Video Conferences by Union Health Secretary with State Governments and 6 by the Cabinet Secretary with the State Chief Secretaries have been held to review them and step up the preparedness to deal with the Corona issue.
The integrated disease surveillance system, which includes monitoring of international travellers, is one of the many issues discussed in these Video Conference.