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A healthcare worker checks the temperature of a woman during a door-to-door survey in Khoraj village of Gujarat on Wednesday. Reuters
A healthcare worker checks the temperature of a woman during a door-to-door survey in Khoraj village of Gujarat on Wednesday. Reuters

Covid-19 rocks House as caseload breaches 5 mn

Opposition parties blame govt for surge in cases, say lockdown proved ineffective

A heated political debate erupted in Parliament on Wednesday over India’s response to the coronavirus outbreak as the number of active cases swelled to a million and cases till date crossed the five million mark.

Fresh cases per day continued to hover around the 90,000 mark with 90,123 cases reported in the last 24 hours. Maharashtra, with more than 20,000 new cases in the last 24 hours, led the tally, the government said, followed by Andhra Pradesh (8,846), and Karnataka (7,576).

Parliament, sitting for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic, saw the opposition launch a full assault on the government, blaming it for worsening the crisis.

On the third day of the monsoon session, Congress leader Anand Sharma challenged health minister Harsh Vardhan over his claim that the lockdown prevented 1.4-2.9 million covid-19 cases and 37,000-78,000 deaths.

“The House must be informed what is the scientific basis on which we have reached this conclusion," Sharma said in Rajya Sabha. He also questioned Vardhan’s claim that India’s deaths per million of 55 was among the lowest in the world. Sri Lanka and South Africa have had a better record, he said.

“Covid-19 is an unprecedented event, an event that no one could have predicted... but the question is how prepared were we?" Sharma asked. The announcement of the lockdown shocked the nation, he said.

The Congress leader wanted the government to speak to the states about improving the public health system. “About 70% of intensive care unit beds are in the private sector. The government should have coordinated with the states before announcing the lockdown. We can’t deny the image of India that was seen abroad, of migrant workers in distress. Also, if quarantine centres were set up in advance, the disease may not have reached villages," Sharma said.

Vinay Sahasrabuddhe of the Bharatiya Janata Party said chief ministers were consulted several times while the decision was being taken. “None of the chief ministers in about 15 meetings with the prime minister and other ministers ever said the lockdown shouldbe opposed," he said.

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Graphic: Mint

The Congress has objected to Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu’s decision to club clarifications on the health minister’s statement with a debate on the crisis.

“If we cannot have a full-fledged discussion on the covid-19 situation without being circumscribed by the minister’s statement, what is the point of having this session of Rajya Sabha in the first place?" Congress leader Jairam Ramesh asked Naidu in a letter.

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MP from Tamil Nadu Tiruchi Siva said India had the strictest lockdown in the world and the worst outcome after the lockdown.

Derek O’Brien of the Trinamool Congress slammed the government for imposing a 21-day lockdown with four hours’ notice. “My question to the government is this, was at least one video conference held before 26 March for coronavirus?" he said.

He said that the Centre should have taken best practices from states such as covering all allied workers under insurance and make a formidable plan for the pandemic.

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