“Even though the training of four Indian astronauts in Russia had to be halted because of the covid-19 pandemic, the opinion of the chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the scientific team is that there was a ‘cushion’ both in the training programme and launch deadline," said Jitendra Singh, the Union minister of state, atomic energy and space.
“The training of astronauts has now been resumed, and the launch is scheduled to take place as planned, before the 75th anniversary of India’s independence in 2022," he said while briefing the media about some of ISRO’s achievements in the past one year and missions lined up for the future.
Elaborating on the cabinet decision to encourage private participation in ISRO’s activities, Singh said a regulator, the Indian National Space Promotion & Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe), will be established. “This will help provide a level playing field to private players and encourage their participation."
The Chandrayaan-3 lunar mission is planned for launch next year. This mission will involve a lander, rover and a propulsion system to carry the modules, but will not have an orbiter as the previous one is fully operational. “Besides enhancing the capacity and resources of our space missions, increased participation of private players will also discourage the brain drain of talented space scientists and experts who were otherwise moving out of India in search of a break," Singh said.
While the pandemic has derailed a majority of government programmes and initiatives, India’s space programme is holding on to its deadlines.
However, for most part, the prevalence of the disease is expected to reshape all aspects of life in the long run, and in the new normal, the priorities will be different.
The government said that at least 80% of covid cases were asymptomatic, so the best medicine was prevention.
As on Monday, India recorded 561,156 cases, with 16,790 fatalities. Presently, there are 215,779 active cases, all under active medical supervision, said the Union health ministry.
While the case count is increasing by leaps and bounds every day, India’s recovery rate is encouraging. So far, 328,527 patients have been cured of covid-19, with a recovery rate of 58.67%, the ministry added.
In the past 24 hours, 12,010 covid-19 patients were cured. India now has 1,047 covid-19-dedicated diagnostic laboratories, including 760 government facilities and 287 private labs.
Eleven more state-owned labs were operationalized in the past 24 hours.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has started conducting over 200,000 tests every day.
“Every country in the world is working towards making a vaccine on a war footing. It has become a global goal. Indian laboratories, both private and public, are taking a wide variety of approaches to develop vaccines against covid-19," said Dr Balram Bhargava, director general, ICMR, and secretary, Department of Health Research.
“Leading vaccine manufacturers in India are using well-defined vaccine development platforms, which were successfully used for other vaccines, for potential covid-19 vaccines," he said.
Bhargava said in many cases, they were collaborating with the academic institutions in India and abroad, where the research and development has been, and is being done, to develop the vaccine prototype.
He added that the companies will manufacture the vaccine for clinical trials and subsequent vaccination programme.
Several vaccines where Indian laboratories (private or public) are involved are at advanced stages of development, and one has already entered the clinical trial phase.
The Union government has also been ramping up the healthcare infrastructure.
As on Sunday, 1,055 dedicated covid hospitals were set up, comprising 177,529 isolation beds, 23,168 ICU beds and 78,060 oxygen-supported beds.
Besides, 2,400 dedicated covid health centres with 140,099 isolation beds, 11,508 ICU beds and 51,371 oxygen-supported beds have also been operationalized, the ministry said.