STATE TIMES NEWS New Delhi: The government on Thursday announced a financial package of Rs 15,000 crore to ramp up the overall healthcare infrastructure in tackling the coronavirus pandemic in the country. The government said an amount of Rs 7,774 crore out of the package will be utilised for immediate response to the pandemic while rest of it will be spent in the medium-term (1-4 years) under mission mode approach. The health ministry, in a statement, said key objectives of the package include mounting emergency response to slow and limit the growth of COVID-19 through the development of diagnostics and dedicated treatment facilities. The announcement of the financial package came as several states are reeling under mounting pressure to provide healthcare support to rising number of people infected by the virus. Separately, a Group of Ministers (GoM) chaired by Health Minister Harsh Vardhan carried out a comprehensive review of the overall containment as well as management of COVID-19 in the country. The GoM also deliberated on social distancing measures as well as strategy to check spread of the infection. “The GoM was informed that all districts have been asked to prepare and strengthen their contingency plans to combat COVID-19,” the health ministry said. It said the several other measures including ways to boost healthcare infrastructure and devoting adequate resources to the states to create dedicated hospitals to treat coronavirus patients were discussed. The amount of Rs 15,000 crore has been sanctioned under ‘India COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health System Preparedness Package’. The funds will also be utilised for centralised procurement of essential medical equipment and drugs required for treatment of infected patients as well as to build resilient national and state health systems to effectively deal with future disease outbreaks. In his address to the nation on March 24, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “The central government has provisioned Rs 15,000 crore for treating coronavirus patients and strengthening the medical infrastructure of the country.” A PTI tally of numbers reported by various states and union territories at 6.30 PM showed as many as 6,475 people having contracted the virus and at least 196 losing their lives so far. Nearly 600 have so far been cured and discharged. However, the Union Health Ministry’s evening update said at least 169 people have died across the country with 5,865 total cases so far. The ministry said 591 new cases and 20 deaths have been reported since Wednesday. The ministry said the funds will also be used for setting up of laboratories as well as in pandemic research besides proactively engaging communities and conduct risk communication activities. “These interventions and initiatives would be implemented under the overall umbrella of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare,” it said. The ministry said major share of the expenditure will be used for mounting a robust emergency response system and strengthening national and state health systems followed by strengthening pandemic research and multi-sectoral institutions. “The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is authorised to re-appropriate resources among components of the package and among the various implementation agencies as per the evolving emergent situation,” it said. As on date, a total of 223 labs comprising a network of 157 government and 66 private laboratories are conducting rigorous screening process of the suspected cases. The ministry said Rs 4,113 crore has already been disbursed to all the states and union territories to help them deal with COVID-19 cases.
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