On 25 March, the first day of a three-week lockdown across India to contain the deadly COVID-19 virus, it became clear that the decision was ill-planned and poorly implemented, as manufacturers of testing kits and personal protective equipment began facing difficulties in transporting the urgent medical materials to hospitals. The previous night, after weeks of Indian health authorities denying community transmission, which led to the country recording the lowest tests per million across the world, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had directed the populace of 1.3 billion to stay inside their homes during a televised address. But the centre’s failure to foresee predictable consequences of the lockdown has put several patients in danger by disturbing the continuous supply of these materials to hospitals.
The ill-thought out move caught the nation off-guard, as the government had consistently underplayed the seriousness of the pandemic in the weeks leading to the lockdown. While citizens scrambled for supplies, the medical-device industry, which is expected to be working at a war-footing to supply health workers with testing kits and personal protective equipment, found itself with employees unable to travel to work, and without transportation to move the material to hospitals.
Several state governments, including those in Delhi, Punjab and Maharashtra, had declared a lockdown in their respective states that began two days before it was imposed across the nation. The pharmaceutical industry, which bears the heavy burden of ensuring the availability of essential drugs and medical devices, was the first to feel the impact. On 23 March, after various requests from medical-device industry representatives, the department of pharmaceuticals had stepped in. That day, PD Vaghela, a secretary in the department of pharmaceuticals, under the ministry of chemicals and fertilisers, wrote to chief secretaries across the country to allow opening of manufacturing units. Vaghela noted that these manufacturers were supposed to be exempt from restrictions, as per a meeting between the cabinet secretary and principal secretary to the prime minister and the state chief secretaries on the previous day. In the letter, accessed by The Caravan, Vaghela noted that “drugs play an important role in public health care delivery system” and that they were “all the more critical in pandemic situation.” He wrote, “As it is the responsibility of the government to ensure the availability of medicines to the public, it is vital that manufacturing, import, sale and distribution of the drugs takes places without any impediment so as to ensure continuous availability of the drugs.”