- COVID-19 response "pre-emptive, pro-active and graded", says centre
- Screening, visa suspension, flight ban done much before others: Centre
- Centre criticised over abrupt, unplanned lockdown that stranded millions
India's response to COVID-19 has been "pre-emptive, pro-active and graded", the government said on Saturday, brushing aside the allegation that the 21-day nationwide lockdown was announced without any planning, triggering a major crisis for migrant workers and people who live on daily incomes.
The Information and Broadcasting Ministry, in a statement, said the government had already put in place a "comprehensive response system" at the borders of the country, much before the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the coronavirus as a public health emergency of international concern on January 30.
The government has faced criticism that the lockdown, that came two months after the global outbreak, was announced abruptly and without planning, leaving millions stranded and triggering panic about access to food and basic necessities.
To stop the spread of the highly-contagious COVID-19 disease, the government has banned all activity except essential ones and asked people to stay at home to observe social distancing.
With all public transport stopped, many left without food, shelter and income have been forced to undertake journeys for hundreds of kilometres on foot.
While the government has announced relief measures, they are yet to reach hundreds of thousands who are worst affected.
In its defence, the government said screening of incoming air passengers, followed by suspension of visas and a ban on international flights were done much ahead of any other country.
"Thermal screening of incoming international passengers from China and Hong Kong was started on 18th January, much before the first case of coronavirus was detected in India on 30th January.
Citing the examples of Italy and Spain, which started screening travellers 25 days and 39 days respectively after the first reported cases, the statement said the government took a number of proactive measures and shared the chronology of the steps taken by it.
Passengers were screened at 30 airports, 12 major and 65 minor ports and at land borders, the government said, adding that over 36 lakh passengers were subjected to screening.
It also said that the states were regularly requested to maintain and further improve upon the surveillance system so that the coverage was complete and there were no gaps.
"A meticulous system has enabled the states to track down individuals who tried to avoid surveillance or who did not follow quarantine measures," the government said.
The number of COVID-19 cases climbed to 873 in India on Saturday with the number of deaths rising to 19, according to the Union Health Ministry.