Even as India suffered its most calamitous surge of the pandemic, the country’s national scientific taskforce on COVID-19, which is supposed to advise the central government on its response to the pandemic, did not meet even once during February and March, according to its members. Two members of the national scientific taskforce, comprising leading scientists from across the country, and another member of a sub-group, which is assisting the task force, have confirmed that they did not meet even once in the two months prior to this explosion of cases in April. This year, they said, the taskforce met on 11 January, and then on 15 April and 21 April, after India was hit by the surge.
“It became abundantly clear in mid February that India was heading towards a devastating second wave,” one member of the national taskforce said. All three scientists spoke on the condition of anonymity. “When things in Maharashtra started going out of hand, some of us tried to flag this issue,” the first member added. The taskforce, however, did not meet during this crucial time. A second member of the taskforce told me that a meeting of the body was “not convened” unless the government “wanted us to rubber stamp some decision already taken by politicians.”
Another significant lapse, the members told me, the Indian Council of Medical Research’s failure to update the treatment protocol for COVID-19 in the past nine months, since July 2020. As the world updated its treatment with emerging evidence, Indian patients were prescribed remdisivir, which is no longer recommended by the World Health Organization. The health ministry issued its last updated treatment protocol on 3 July 2020, which listed remdesivir as part of “investigational therapies” that would be upgraded “as the situation evolves, and when more data becomes available.”