December 2, 2021
Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar speaks during discussion on COVID-19 pandemic and related aspects under Rule 193
I think it was time we discussed this very important issue which is plaguing the world. It is a privilege that during the all-party meeting, the Lok Sabha leader of our party Sudip Bandyopadhyay, raised the topic that COVID needs serious detailed discussion in the House. So, when we are discussing it today, I will thank all the speakers who have already spoken. I would like to say that when we started with this disease nearly two years back, we were ridiculed. It’s still to be decided when the Chinese city of Wuhan saw the first set of infections in 2019, whether it was August or it was December. We were banned from wearing masks in the house. Particularly in the Rajya Sabha, our Honourable Members were directed to leave the House or remove their masks. That goes to prove how immature in thinking this government is and how unaware they are … [Presiding officer asks her not to mention actions in the other House]. We were not allowed to wear masks in Parliament and the Government was unaware of the very serious condition of this disease.
This disease is affects the respiratory apparatus, I am not an entomologist, I am not an epidemiologist, I am not a virologist, but as an ordinary person, ordinary doctor, I would like remind this august house of the devastation seen some hundreds of years ago, when Europe was absolutely devastated with plague, or after that, small pox in the United States of America. After which, lots of stories made the rounds regarding the advent of small pox in the United States of America. So maybe, down the line, some stories are going to emerge regarding the advent of this particular virus because as we have studied, a virus is a self-limiting organism—a virus kills itself along the way as it goes on creating disease. But here we see this virus is not dying. This virus is mutating, whihc means it is changing its character so that it is becoming immune to therapy and as a result, is killing more people. So, if this mutating virus is man-made, then how it was created and how it was let loose in the world is a big question which a lot of researchers are thinking about.
Now, due to the coronavirus, since 2019, we have lost so many lives. Usually, it takes about five to ten years to produce a vaccine. But my salutation here, in this august House, from this platform, is to the researchers and doctors who worked and devised the vaccine within eight to 10 months of the advent of the disease. And the salutation also goes out to the doctors who were working—they were the frontline fighters all over the world. We can’t put on a mask for one or two hours; we can’t speak with the mask on because it suffocates us. Yet, the doctors were putting on PPE, or personal protective equipment in the sweltering heat of May, and looking after patients, trying to revive them, trying to resuscitate them. They were undergoing so much dehydration. More than 700 doctors died in 2020, and more than that in 2021. Nurses have died. ASHA workers and police personnel have lost their lives. My salutation goes out to all of them who have been the frontline warriors. This is a war, this is not a disease, this is like a world war and we are facing the war. We are with the people, we have to be with the people. This Government should have been more careful because the vaccines that were produced within a very short span of time have not been used properly. We advertised that we completed a hundred billion doses but what about the second doses? Why can’t we complete the second dose which were supposed to complete it by December or January? Why have we not managed? Also, there is a suggestion by the experts all over the world that people who are over the age of 65 and have comorbidities should be given the booster dose. What is the policy of this Government regarding booster dose? What is the policy of this government regarding maximising the vaccination of children and young adults because they are our future? When so many people died, sometimes doctors were blamed. I don’t want to name the person but they were blaming the doctors. The doctors have fought this battle on their own here, without ventilators, without oxygen supply, without oxygen concentrators. I would rather suggest to the Honourable Minister sitting here that, at the time of independence and before that there was an Indian Medical Service, like the Indian Administrative Service. Why don’t we bring back the Indian Medical Service in which that medical administrator who will look after the administration part of the medical calamities and also the delivery system? Because we might see more of what we are seeing today.
The World Health Organisation brought out an advisory on November 26 because we are quite worried about the mutations. There are spike proteins in this virus. And there are nearly 30 mutations in each spike protein. What does a spike protein do? It attaches with a cell. This virus enters through the nose and mouth. It remains in the spaces behind our nose for a day or two. Then it travels downwards to the respiratory lining on the lungs. It prevents us from breathing. The severe acute respiratory syndrome is related to the virus that causes COVID-19 because the lining of the air space is affected by the virus. That is why the advisory to cover the nose and mouth, so that the virus does not enter. There is an advisory that you stay away from the next person by a distance of at least 6 feet so that when speaking or breathing, you don’t transmit the virus. The advisory is that you keep windows and doors of the room open, have the fan on, so that there is ventilation and the virus can go out of the room. These are the advisories being given by experts so that we can prevent the virus from entering through our nose and affecting our lungs.
The World Health Organisation has designated the latest variant of the virus as B.1.1.529 and has termed it as a ‘variant of concern’. The World Health Organisation is very concerned with this particular variant,called Omicron, which seems to be much more dangerous than the previous one. There is the Delta and now we have this Omicron suddenly upon us. The WHO technical advisory group on evolution is suggesting that these mutations may have an impact on how the virus behaves, how it reacts to the vaccine and how it kills a person, so we have to go through the WHO warning and make our people aware.
Generally, it has been seen that this virus is causing fever and it is giving us severe respiratory disorders. Particularly patients with comorbidity are prone to die. Now, it has not yet been decided whether Omicron is more transmissible than the previous variant. But we have to be careful. The severity of the disease is also not decided because Omicron is pretty new in the field. But there is no information yet available to suggest that the symptoms associated with the Omicron variant are any different from those associated with the other variants. If two doses of the vaccines are administered, it definitely prevents severe disease and death, but mild disease will still occur and with mild disease, there will be morbidity in society. There may be an increased risk of reinfection by Omicron for people who have been infected previously with COVID-19, by the other variants. So it is not that people who have been previously infected won’t get the disease any more. Thus, vaccines remain critical in reducing the occurrence of the severe form of the disease.
It is said that India produces 60 per cent of the world’s requirement of vaccines, and the CEO of a particular Pune-based firm says that he has enough stock of the second dose for the whole country. Then why is the government, instead of vaccinating the entire country’s population with the second dose, exporting vaccines? For whose benefit were vaccines exported and not given to our own people? Why isn’t there any advisory regarding booster dose? The government is trying to deprive the citizens of India and earn brownie points from other countries. I am not saying you don’t help other countries; if we have excess, we will definitely help other countries, everybody should be self-sufficient. But why can’t we complete the second dose and why can’t we give the booster shots to the elederly, it simply beats me; I don’t understand. And the treatment, as far as the new variant is concerned, is stil to prevent the cytokine storm, that is related to the injection of the particular steroids and interleukin 6, but whether remdevisir, which has been useful against the previous variants, will be effective here or not, whether the particular companies claiming that drugs have been brought out, whether we are aware of it in the government, whether we have enough stock of it, we would like to know. The House wants to know whether we have enough stock of the drug to help us because it is said that this drug will prevent and cure the disease. The most effective steps that we can take are maintaining social distance and wearing masks. There are no two way about it. Omicron has about 50 mutations, including more than 30 mutations on the spike protein, the region of the virus that binds to allow the virus to enter human cells. One reason doctors and scientists are raising early alarm bells about Omicron even before it has proven itself to be a truth set is because it contains several mutations that made the earlier variants, the Alpha, Beta, Gamma or Delta, more transmittable and better able to evade the immune response. We, after vaccination, get an immune response but this variant is evading the immune response. So, we have to be more careful. Fortunately, the vaccine response is all or nothing; it’s not that even after vaccination, the body doesn’t respond. The body will show some response, the body will respond to the virus, so severe disease will be prevented, deaths will be prevented. I only mean that vaccination is the only answer to the disease and therefore, complete vaccination with two doses for the entire population is needed.
That is as far as vaccination goes. As far as scientific cases go, the evidence is clear that the type of immune response from heterologous approach—of using a particular brand of vaccine, like AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson, followed by the mRNA vaccine by Pfizer or Biotech—induces superior, neutralising and cell-mediated immune response, than two doses of a non-replicating vector vaccine. That is why it is better if you mix up the vaccines as that gives you a better and larger area of action for the virus to be trapped. The high-risk groups should be given the booster dose immediately.
The question remains whether the government is prepared to let us know the status of ventilators available, the number of ventilators, because we have seen that of those bought with the PM CARES fund, some failed drastically. We have seen labourers were affected adversely when sudden lockdown was announced. There was loss of GDP, loss of earning. So what has the government done to take care of that? There should not be any haphazard lockdown as far as the World Health Organisation data goes. It is saying that there is no need for a lockdown right away. You can keep the airports open, travelling open but with mask on—that is what the advisory says. So, the House wants to know, what is the plan of the Government? How do you propose to protect the people, the citizens who have been working so hard? There were no ventilators, there was lack of oxygen supply, and there was shortage of oxygen concentrators. How do you prpose to stand by the different communities, different sectors of people who lost their jobs? And what is the growth in the last few years? How many total beds have the government prepared? In West Bengal, our Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, has kept, even today, 30,000 beds ready for any type of calamity, any type of third wave if it comes along. So, what is the total number of COVID-19 beds kept ready in the country? What is the total number of oxygen suppliers? What is the total oxygen production in the country? How many vaccines are still there that people are looking at? What is the stock of the medicine that is being used to cure the disease? What is the idea about compensating the people who lost their lives due to COVID-19? What is the idea about people who are suffering by not getting any jobs? What is the government’s proposal for them? We want a complete status report. A decision has to be made on how we are going to tackle the third wave, if it comes, or tackle he situation if the effect of Omicron becomes bigger than that of the other variants.
Thank you, Sir.