New Delhi, Jul 20 (PTI) Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Tuesday strongly defended the government's management of the COVID-19 pandemic and accused the Opposition parties of politicising the health crisis.
Refuting charges that the government's response to the pandemic was delayed, Puri said India was the first to stop flights from China after the outbreak and had also imposed a complete nationwide lockdown in March last year to check the spread of the coronavirus.
Puri, who is the Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas as well as Housing and Urban Affairs, was participating in a short duration discussion on the management of the COVID-19 pandemic in Rajya Sabha on the second day of the Monsoon session.
On Monday, the House had witnessed repeated adjournments due to uproar by Opposition parties on various issues, including charges of snooping on politicians and journalists using Pegasus software.
Taking part in the discussion, Puri said that while uninformed comment is bad enough, attempts to produce a false narrative 'is even more serious matter'.
'Listening to my friends, members from across party lines, I got the impression that the one realisation which had escaped them was that the enemy here is the virus...not the government, not the state chief ministers, not the system,' he said.
Puri noted that the fatality rate of SARS is over 17 per cent, which is way higher than the fatality rate of COVID-19.
'If there is any experience that anyone in medical profession has had in last several decades, it does not add up to our experience of COVID-19. Because the last time we had disruption, death and destruction at this scale, was during the Spanish Flu...,' he said.
Puri dismissed charges that the government's response to the pandemic had been delayed.
'As (then) Civil Aviation Minister, I was the first to stop flights coming from China, others followed. We went into a total lockdown on March 25, 2020. On the one hand we are told the lockdown is too severe...and then you accuse us of the opposite,' he said.
At the beginning of the lockdown, India did not produce PPE kits or ventilators, Puri recalled.
'We flew in 1900 tonnes of medical equipments initially and then as part of atmanirbharta (self-reliance) spirit, we started manufacturing each of these things and exporting them. Is that an achievement or not,' he said.
He lashed out at repeated objections from the Congress and other Opposition parties in the past to what they called accelerated permission given to the Covid vaccine of Bharat Biotech, and accused them of playing politics over the pandemic and fuelling vaccine hesitancy in the country.
India has administered 42 crore doses of vaccine as of Monday, he informed.
Puri added that those questioning the efficacy of domestic vaccines are actually making a case for expensive, imported vaccines.
Speaking on the issue, Congress leader Anand Sharma said the discussion should have been bipartisan, but 'unfortunately, I did not see that.' Sharma noted that fatigue and complacency had set in after the first wave of the pandemic.
Many of the infrastructure and facilities created during the first wave were deactivated, he said, adding, 'We did not realise that pandemics have a pattern and that the second wave will come.' The second wave was hard and spread like fire, he said.
The government must ensure that facilities remain in a state of readiness for a possible third wave, Sharma emphasised.
Many lessons have been learnt from the severe second wave and it is important to reflect on social and economic consequences, he said.
The pandemic has led to mental health issues among the poor, women, children, Sharma said, highlighting that low internet access in rural areas had made online classes difficult for many children.
The government, he said, must ensure that life-saving drugs are made available to those in need. 'Make a fresh beginning...all of us need to think...how do we fight this battle,' Sharma added.
Vaiko of the MDMK said that even the mention of coronavirus is enough to send chills down the spine of people.
Taking a dig at the Opposition for criticising the government over its handling of the pandemic, Vinay P Sahasrabuddhe of the BJP wondered when would there be a vaccine for 'ideological jaundice'.
Responding to the comments of Sahasrabuddhe, Binoy Viswam of the CPI said it is not a question of ideological jaundice but the fact of the matter is that about five lakh people have died and many people have lost their jobs and livelihood.
'...this is reality...don't accuse us of ideological jaundice. That jaundice is there and you are the victims,' Viswam said.
India's death toll due to COVID-19 climbed to 4,14,482 with 374 fatalities being reported on Tuesday. PTI MBI SMN