Lockdown could not have gone on forever says NITI Aayog member
New Delhi, May 23: The lockdown was meant for a purpose and we have achieved to a large extent, said Dr V K Paul, member of the NITI Aayog.
He further said that a lockdown cannot go on forever while adding that it did allow us to avoid an exponential rise in cases and line up our resources to tackle the pandemic in a much better way.
The government on Friday said that the studies show that if the lockdown had not been imposed, India would have reported lakhs of cases and many deaths. Scientists said that about 15.9 lakh cases and 51,000 deaths have been averted.
The government imposed the nationwide lockdown from March 25 to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus and it is currently in its fourth phase.
Like the number of cases, the growth rate of number of COVID-19 deaths too has fallen significantly due to the lockdown, marking a notable difference between pre and post lockdown situations, Paul said.
At the briefing, Pravin Srivastava, Secretary in the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, gave model-based estimates on COVID-19 cases and deaths which have been prevented due to the lockdown.
As per Boston Consulting Group's model, the lockdown saved between 1.2 lakh and 2.1 lakh lives, while the number of COVID-19 cases averted is between 36 lakh and 70 lakh, he said.
According to the Public Health Foundation of India, nearly 78,000 lives have been saved due to the lockdown, Srivastava said.
Citing a model by two independent economists, he said that around 23 lakh COVID-19 cases and 68,000 deaths have been averted due to the lockdown.
Some independent experts, including retired scientists, have calculated that around 15.9 lakh cases and 51,000 deaths have been averted due to the lockdown, Srivastava said.
A joint study by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation and the Indian Statistical Institute found that around 20 lakh COVID-19 cases and 54,000 deaths were averted due to lockdown, he said.
Taking all these into account, the number of COVID-19 cases averted due to the lockdown is in the range of 14-29 lakh, while the number of lives saved is between 37,000 and 78,000, the official said.
"We are fully confident that the lockdown, with full public cooperation, has reaped rich dividends," Srivastava said.
The strong defence of the lockdown, comes a day after the health ministry said the period of lockdown has been gainfully utilised to ramp up the health infrastructure. The announcement on Thursday came after some media reports questioned the country's preparedness to deal with the highly infectious disease.
"There are reports in a section of the media about some decisions of the government regarding the lockdown implementation and response to COVID-19 management. The period of the lockdown has been gainfully utilised to ramp up the health infrastructure in the country," the ministry had said.
The death toll in the country due to COVID-19 rose to 3,583 and the number of cases climbed to 11,8447 registering an increase of 148 deaths and a record jump of 6,088 cases in a 24-hour span till Friday 8 AM, according to the Union Health Ministry.
Elaborating on the gains of the lockdown till May 15, Paul said the virus has a nature of spreading exponentially and till April 3, the cases were increasing at a fast pace.
However, after April 4 there was a steep decline for the next 15-20 days and the case growth per cent came down to 5.5 till May 13 from 15-22 per cent earlier as the lockdown put a brake on the speed of increase of cases, Paul said.
The number of COVID-19 cases would have risen exponentially had the lockdown not been implemented, he said, adding that the doubling time of the novel coronavirus cases now stands at 13.3 days as against 3.4 days since the lockdown was imposed.
Despite being such a large nation, due to lockdown, the outbreak of the infection has remained confined to limited areas, Paul said.
Around 80 per cent of active cases reported till Thursday are in just five states -- Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh. Over 90 per cent are in 10 states, he said stressing that in the last two months the number of cases has risen in large numbers in other countries.
As far as fatalities are concerned, over 80 per cent of the deaths are in five states -- Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Delhi and around 95 per cent of the deaths are in 10 states.
"The confinement of COVID-19 to certain areas has been due to the actions taken during lockdown, it enabled us to be more prepared for the future," Paul said, highlighting how the health infrastructure was ramped up in less than two months.
As many as 1,093 dedicated COVID facilities and around 1,85,306 beds have been prepared for treatment of such patients. Also 2,403 dedicated COVID-19 health centres with oxygen facilities having a capacity 1,38,652 isolation beds have been readied.
Besides, 30 lakh PPEs were given to states, 109 domestic manufacturers have been enlisted, with 3 lakh per day domestic PPE manufacturing capacity.
Guidelines on various aspects of COVID-19 management have been prepared expeditiously, scientifically and seven companies are producing testing kits, and vaccine development is going on after virus culturing by ICMR, he said adding there has been a massive response to deal with the challenge of COVID-19 during this lockdown period.
Also, Aarogya Setu is an unequalled weapon in our hands to fight the disease and the app now has more than 10 crore users, Paul said. Use of telemedicine has become more popular, guidelines have been framed promptly, it is being used in a timely manner.
The mortality rate is quite low as compared to others. It is 2.13 deaths per million in India while it 3.34 deaths per million in China and 519 deaths in UK.
"The time the nation got for preparedness due to lockdown has been utilised very well, we can now say with confidence that we will be able to face the challenge and surmount it," he said.
Responding to a question whether relaxations allowed in the fourth phase of the lockdown which includes resumption of flights, would take hurtle us back to square one, Paul said lockdown cannot go on forever as it was meant for a purpose and it achieved the purpose to large extent.
"It cannot continue for an unlimited time and life has to return to normal as the livelihoods have been affected and other costs are also rising. It is very important that we continue in a manner and exhibit a behaviour in a manner creates difficulties for the virus to spread."
Addressing the press briefing, Joint Secretary in the health ministry Lav Agarwal said 48,534 COVID-19 patients, which is about 41 per cent of the total cases, have recovered so far.
The COVID-19 mortality rate has dropped from 3.13 per cent on May 19 to 3.02 per cent as focus was on containment measures and clinical management of cases, he said.
An ICMR official said 27,55,714 tests for COVID-19 have been conducted till 1 pm Friday with 1,03,829 tests done in one day. Over 1 lakh tests for COVID-19 have been done each day for the last four days, the official said.