The Union health ministry was in the thick of action throughout 2020 in India's fight against coronavirus, ramping up testing facilities as well as health infrastructure while simultaneously issuing COVID-19 treatment and management guidelines from time and time. At the same time, it put on track the development of a vaccine which is likely to be available early next year.
The first case of coronavirus infection in the country was recorded on January 30 in Kerala and the first death on March 10 in Karnataka. By September, India became the second worst-hit nation, after the US, in terms of COVID-19 cases.
As the country eased the lockdown norms through a graded and pre-emptive approach, the health ministry started issuing standard operating procedures for opening up of religious places, shopping malls, restaurants, hotel and offices and most recently for educational institutions to prevent the spread of the virus.
The Centre on March 30 also launched Rs 50-lakh insurance cover for health workers fighting COVID-19. It also constituted 11 empowered groups on different aspects of COVID-19 management in the country to take informed decisions on various issues.
The number of daily coronavirus cases peaked in September with 97,894 infections being reported on the17th day of the month, after which India began witnessing a decline in cases even though several other countries saw a surge in infections.
India crossed the grim milestone of one crore COVID-19 cases on December 19, even as the spread of the virus slowed down with almost a month being taken for the 10 lakh new infections unlike in the period from August till mid-November when they rose at a faster rate.
Recoveries have crossed 98 lakh putting the country in the number one position in terms of the number of recovered coronavirus cases, followed by Brazil while it is in the third spot in terms of fatalities globally after the US and Brazil, according to the Johns Hopkins University, which has been compiling global COVID-19 data.
While battling the pandemic, India ramped up the production of COVID-19 protective gears like PPE and N-95 masks while scaling up testing facilities boosting indigenous production of such items thereby reducing dependency on foreign countries.
Starting with a single laboratory, the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune and having 100 laboratories in the beginning of the lockdown, the ICMR validated the 1000th testing laboratory on June 23.
India has so far tested over 17 crore samples for COVID-19 in its over 1,200 government and 1,080 private laboratories.
As several countries raced to develop a vaccine against the deadly viral disease, Indian scientists too plunged into action and developed at least three vaccine candidates, one of which now is under active consideration for approval.
At present, six COVID-19 vaccines are undergoing clinical trials in India.
They are: Covaxin, developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with ICMR; Oxford vaccine manufactured by SII under licence from AstraZeneca; ZyCOV-D being developed by Cadila Healthcare Ltd in Ahmedabad in collaboration with the Centre's Department of Biotechnology; Sputnik V vaccine manufactured by Dr Reddy's Lab, Hyderabad, in collaboration with Russia's Gamaleya National Centre; one manufactured by Biological E Ltd, Hyderabad, in collaboration with MIT, US and the sixth developed by Pune-based Gennova Biopharmaceuticals Ltd in collaboration with HDT, US.
Besides, there is NVX-CoV2373, which is being developed by SII in collaboration with Novavax and its phase-3 clinical trial is under consideration with the drug regulator.
An eighth vaccine is being developed by Bharat Biotech International Ltd in collaboration with Thomas Jefferson University, US and it is at the pre-clinical stages.
Another vaccine, which is in the initial stage, is being developed by Aurbindo Pharma.
Meanwhile, Bharat Biotech, Serum Institute of India and Pfizer have applied to the Drugs Controller General of India seeking emergency use authorisation for their COVID-19 vaccines.
While Pfizer is yet to make a presentation, the applications of Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute are being examined, the Centre recently said asserting that DCGI's requirement for more data from the companies will not impact the vaccine-roll out timeline.
While all out efforts were being made to control the contagion, the health ministry interacted with the media regularly to spread awareness among people about the importance of maintaining COVID appropriate behaviour such as wearing masks, maintaining hand hygiene, respiratory etiquettes and social distancing to curb the transmission of virus.
As the government gears up to inoculate 30-crore people in the first phase, the health ministry recently issued 'COVID-19 Vaccine Operational Guidelines' to states for the immunisation drive.
The COVID-19 vaccine will be offered first to healthcare workers, frontline workers and to people above 50 years of age, followed by persons younger than 50 years of age with associated co-morbidities based on evolving pandemic situation, and finally to the remaining population based on the disease epidemiology and vaccine availability.
The priority group of above 50 years may be further subdivided into those above 60 years of age and those between 50 and 60 years of age for purposes of phasing of roll out based on pandemic situation and vaccine availability.
"The latest electoral roll for Lok Sabha and legislative assembly election will be used to identify population aged 50 years or more," the guidelines stated.
For the real-time monitoring of the COVID-19 vaccine delivery and distribution, the health ministry has also created a digital platform Co-WIN, which will include a free downloadable mobile application that will help record vaccine data and enable people to get registered for the vaccination.
With the preparations for an anti-coronavirus inoculation drive underway, the ministry recently said that 29,000 cold chain points, 240 walk-in coolers, 70 walk-in freezers, 45000 ice-lined refrigerators, 41000 deep freezers and 300 solar refrigerators will be used for the COVID-19 vaccine storage.
Guidelines for estimation of electrical and non-electrical cold chain equipment and their strengthening have been issued to the states by the Centre while the guidelines for management of cold chain at last cold chain points and session sites have also been issued.
Further, 23 ministries and departments of the Centre and states have been identified and assigned roles (planning, implementation, social mobilization, awareness generation etc.) for vaccine roll out.
Furthermore, training modules for medical officers, vaccinator officers, cold chain handlers, supervisors, ASHA coordinators etc are also finalized and physical training as well as training on virtual/online platforms are underway.