Head of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the apex body coordinating the national response to Covid-19, Balram Bhargava, has said working together was the most abiding lesson from the fight against the pandemic as prior to the outbreak “two scientists wouldn’t work together”.
“The most important thing that we have learnt during this pandemic in India and from the point of view of our organisation I think is working together. Earlier two scientists would not work together, two laboratories would not work together, two institutions would not work together; two organisations would not work together, two ministries would not work together. That has changed now,” Bhargava said at the launch of his book “Going Viral: The Inside Story of Covaxin”, which documents the Indian journey to the production of indigenous Covid vaccine and the unique ICMR-Bharat Biotech public-private partnership that developed the shot.
Bhargava said the pandemic taught India the whole of government approach with everyone working together.
“That is one of the most important things we have achieved during the pandemic. That everyone is working together. Secondly, we have learnt the need for speed. We had to work with clear cut deadlines and timelines so that we could achieve our targets,” Bhargava said, noting how India scaled up testing capacities with just one lab on January 30, 2020 when the first case of Covid was detected.
As the third lesson of the pandemic, Bhargava cited “the political will and leadership that delivered and executed the world’s largest and fastest Covid vaccine drive with India administering one billion doses recently”.
Bhargava said so far India has tested over 550 million samples and the national tests per million are 1500 (ten times higher than the WHO requirement).
“The cost of RT-PCR test has been reduced in India by tenfold since the pandemic outbreak to USD 2 per test and the cost of rapid antigen test is just USD 1 per test. As of today, 39 per cent of Indian labs are working one shift; 29 per cent two shifts and 32 per cent three shifts to conduct nearly one to two million tests a day,” Bhargava said, adding that ICMR labs had published 10 papers on Covaxin efficacy against variants.