Modi’s Doctors

How four men botched India’s COVID response

01 March 2022

On 25 December 2020, the ministry of science and technology set up INSACOG, a pan-India network of laboratories to monitor genomic variations of SARS-CoV-2. The government had identified ten advanced laboratories to serve as “regional hubs” for genome sequencing—to keep an eye on the strains of the coronavirus circulating in India. Dr Shahid Jameel, India’s leading virologist, was appointed as chair of this consortium of laboratories.

“By that time, we had very little idea of what was circulating in India, how it was mutating,” a scientist involved with the INSACOG labs told me.

A sophisticated channel of communication was laid out: samples would come from state health departments to the National Centre for Disease Control in Delhi. The NCDC would forward the samples to the regional labs. Each lab was assigned certain states to cover. The samples would be sequenced, and the information generated would be uploaded to a portal accessible to all INSACOG labs and updated weekly. The reports would go back to the NCDC, and from there to state health departments, informing them what had been found in the samples they sent.

Vidya Krishnan is a global health reporter who works and lives in India. Her first book, Phantom Plague: How Tuberculosis Shaped History, was published in February 2022 by PublicAffairs.

Keywords: ICMR Niti Aayog Harsh Vardhan pandemic COVID-19 Deaths Covid-19 vaccine Kumbha and Covid INSACOG Narendra Modi NDMA