India’s fight against the novel coronavirus should be measured in the lives saved, says Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He also praised the people for being united in adapting their lifestyles to fight the pandemic.
“This virus is something unknown… so while tackling this unknown entity, our response also evolves. I think we should assess our coronavirus fight against the metric of how many lives we are able to save,” PM Modi told The Economic Times.
He also noted that the virus has proved “fickle” where some areas see as hotspots such as Gujarat now fare better than Kerala, while Karnataka has managed to bring the pandemic “under control.”
“I feel there is no room for complacency. The only way forward is to take precautions such as wearing (a) mask, hand washing and social distancing. ‘Jab tak dawai nahin, tab tak dhilai nahin (Until there’s no vaccine/medicine, there will be no relaxing),” he added.
The prime minister also said that India got it right by imposing the lockdown “at a very critical point in the pandemic trajectory” and noted India’s science-driven approach has “proved beneficial.”
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
Modi praised the country for being “united” and standing together, stating that the task would have otherwise been impossible. He also praised frontline healthcare workers for “fighting for this country” despite the threat to their life.
The PM said his biggest learning over the course of the pandemic has been about the significance of last mile delivery – first through the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) regime, which allowed for transfer of cash straight to bank accounts of millions.
“We were able to reach relief on a massive scale to people in a very short time, without any complaints of corruption. That is the power of technology in governance,” he noted.
The second, Modi said was people’s willingness to adapt their behavioural changes – such as wearing masks and social distancing, without coercive enforcement; which along with united work from the public and private sectors have ensured an “effective fight.”
On a future fight with the pandemic, Modi was cautiously optimistic saying the attitude should be to “hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
“This is a new virus. Countries which had initially controlled the outbreak are now reporting a resurgence … (and) many of our states are larger than (these) countries. Within the country, the impact is very diverse — there are some areas where it’s minimal, and some where it’s very persistent. Our latest numbers do indicate a lower phase yet we cannot be complacent. The virus thrives on our complacency,” he pointed out.
On plans for availability and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, the prime minister sought to assure that there will be universal vaccination, albeit while initial focus may be on the vulnerable and frontline health workers.
“When a vaccine becomes available, everyone will be vaccinated. None will be left behind. A National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 Vaccine has been constituted to chart the way forward,” he said.
On the logistics, Modi said there are over 28,000 cold chain points that will store and distribute Covid-19 vaccines to ensure they reach the last point. “Dedicated teams at state, district and local levels will see to it that the vaccine distribution and administration is done in a systematic and accountable manner. A digital platform to enroll, track and reach the beneficiaries is also being prepared,” he said.
On the economic impact of the virus, Modi said the aim has been to save lives and provide enough essentials to the poor. He pointed out that the government gave out the PM Garib Kalyan package before an economic package for the corporate sector.
“One special insight was that the agriculture sector is one where social distancing can be maintained without compromising on productivity, so we allowed these activities from the start. We see the results today despite so many months of disruption,” he added.
He further added that pending reforms were carried out during this period across agriculture, coal, civil aviation, defence and labour sectors, which will help “get back on the high growth path.”
“Our efforts are bearing result as the Indian economy is already getting back on track faster than expected,” he said.
On plans for further stimulus the prime minister said the government “will take all measures to constantly stimulate the economy in a timely manner while ensuring overall macro-economic stability.”
Modi was also optimistic about India’s target to become a $5 trillion economy by 2024, stating “we can run faster in the next year to make up for the loss.”
“By not aspiring, we guarantee failure. India is the third largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity. We want India to become the third largest in terms of current US dollar prices as well. The $5 trillion target will help us achieve that. Also, our government has a track record of meeting our targets. So, going by our track record and continuing reforms, people also have confidence in our abilities to reach the target,” he said.Modi also said the country is on its way to recovery pointing out indicators in agriculture – record production and record purchase, high foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows – 13 percent YoY, auto sales reaching or surpassing 2019 levels, steady recovery in manufacturing – reflected in first YoY rise in exports in seven months, healthy growth of e-way bills and GST collections, and number of new net EPFO subscribers – which indicate uptick in the job market.
“I feel the big push on Investment and infrastructure will become the driving force for recovery and growth. According to Moody’s, 154 greenfield projects from the US have come to India in 2020, compared to 86 in China, 12 in Vietnam and 15 in Malaysia. This is a clear indication of global confidence in India’s growth story going forward. We have laid strong foundations to make India the foremost manufacturing destination,” he added.