NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday told chief ministers to focus on COVID-19 containment measures -- testing, tracing, isolation and quarantine -- with a common goal of ensuring minimum loss of life, and pitched for a joint strategy for a "staggered" exit from the ongoing lockdown.
As the country witnessed a spike in coronavirus infections and deaths in the past few days, the prime minister held a meeting with the chief ministers via video-conferencing and said it was imperative to work on a war footing, identify hotspots, encircle them and ensure that the infection does not spread out.
According to an official statement, Modi also pitched for formulating a common exit strategy to ensure "staggered re-emergence of the population" once the 21-day nationwide lockdown ends on April 14.
Reiterating the importance of social distancing in preventing the spread of the virus, which has infected over 1,950 people and caused at least 50 deaths, Modi asked the states to brainstorm and send suggestions on a strategy from exit from the lockdown.
"The prime minister outlined that the common goal for the country is to ensure minimum loss of life. In the next few weeks, testing, tracing, isolation and quarantine should remain the areas of focus," the statement said.
The states spoke about the importance of mobilising resources, financial as well as medical, to mitigate the crisis, the statement said.
Union Health Secretary Preeti Sudan spoke about the rise in the number of cases in India, the spread of cases from the Nizamuddin headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat, preparations to tackle medical cases arising out of the further spread of the virus, and need to break the transmission chain in the districts with a high number of confirmed cases.
During the interaction, the prime minister forewarned that the global situation remains far from satisfactory.
He informed the participants about speculations of a "possible second wave" of spread of the virus in some countries.
He highlighted the necessity of maintaining supply of essential medical products, availability of raw material for manufacture of medicines and medical equipment.
Modi said it was necessary to ensure availability of separate, dedicated hospital facilities for COVID-19 patients.
He said that it is pertinent to maintain peace, and law and order across the country.
He said COVID-19 has attacked "our faith and belief and is threatening our way of life".
He appealed to the leaders to reach out to community leaders and social welfare organisations at state, district, town and block levels to build up a united front based on community-approach in the battle against the pandemic.
To increase the availability of doctors, he asked the states to tap into the resource pool of AYUSH doctors, organise online training and utilise para-medical staff, National Cadet Corps and National Social Service volunteers.
Modi also thanked the states for supporting the decision of lockdown due to which India has achieved some success in limiting the spread of COVID-19.
He praised how all the states have worked together as a team to check the spread of the virus.
Underscoring the importance of coordinated action and the need to avoid overlaps in efforts of stakeholders, the prime minister talked about the need of setting up "Crisis Management Groups" at district level and appointment of District Surveillance Officers.
He was of the view that data must be taken from the accredited labs for testing -- "this will ensure congruence in data of district, state and centre," the statement said.
He said it is necessary to ensure staggered release of funds to the beneficiaries under PM Garib Kalyan Yojana to avoid crowding at banks.
Considering that this is the time of harvesting, the government has given some relaxation from lockdown.
But it is necessary to continuously monitor and maintain social distancing as much as possible, he pointed out.
He asked the states to think of other platforms for procuring grains apart from Agricultural Produce Market Committees and explore the possibility of creating pooling platforms for rural areas.
He gave the example of ride-sharing apps and said these can be used for this purpose.
The chief ministers thanked the prime minister for his leadership, continuous guidance and support in this time of crisis.
They appreciated him for taking the bold and timely decision of lockdown which has helped check the spread of the virus in the country, the statement said.
The chief ministers referred to their efforts of maintaining social distancing, tracking suspect cases, identifying and quarantining suspect cases arising from Nizamuddin Markaz, containing community transmission and boosting of medical infrastructure.
Tablighi Jamaat's Markaz in Nizamuddin West has emerged as an epicentre for the spread of the coronavirus in different parts of the country after thousands of people took part in a congregation from March 1-15.
Six people who died in Telangana and one in Jammu and Kashmir had attended the congregation.
The chief ministers also spoke about strengthening the medical workforce, provision of tele-medicine and mental health counselling, distribution of food and other essentials to those in need and taking care of migrant workers.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Home Minister Amit Shah were present at the interaction.
Shah talked about the need for enforcing the lockdown more strictly in some states and effective district-level implementation of guidelines issued by the Centre.