India is leading efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak in the South East Asian region, even as the three confirmed cases at home keep health officials on their toes.

The country has agreed to test clinical samples from abroad in its laboratories, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan informed the Parliament on February 10. “Indian Council of Medical Research [ICMR] has offered to do testing of samples for South East Asian region countries. We have agreed to provide technical assistance to Bhutan in managing this infectious disease and screening of passengers.”

India has already been testing samples sent from the Maldives, according to the minister.

In India, the National Institute of Virology in Pune is the nodal laboratory for testing high-risk pathogens. The institute has the rare biological safety level-4, or BSL-4, certification from the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, which is given to those working with dangerous pathogens. “Besides, 10 other laboratories are also testing samples,” Dr Vardhan said.

So far, the institute has tested 242 samples taken from people who have travelled to China lately.


India is also offering help with evacuating people from affected areas. On February 7, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar informed the Parliament that India had offered to evacuate students from all its neighbouring countries, including Pakistan, studying in Wuhan. “This was an offer made to all our neighbours, but only seven nationals of Maldives chose to avail the offer,” Jaishankar had said.

India had despatched aircraft of the state-owned Air India on February 1 and February 2 to Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak. So far, over 600 Indians have been evacuated from China.

On Monday, in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping praised India for offering solidarity and assistance to deal with the outbreak. Xi said the “efforts fully demonstrated” friendship between New Delhi and Beijing. On February 2, Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid had also expressed his gratitude to Modi for helping seven Maldivian nationals come out of China.

High alert at home

Back home, efforts are underway to prevent coronavirus from spreading. “We are monitoring and reviewing the situation daily. The government has conducted training for the officers of ports, airports and border crossing points and has sensitised them on the management of higher risk pathogens such as Ebola and coronavirus,” Vardhan told the Parliament yesterday. “They have been equipped with personal protective equipment.”

He further informed that the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme has been geared up to track and follow up on passengers coming from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. However, a report by news agency ANI claimed that the Modi government is in a need for more safety kits to fight the outbreak.

“As of now, adequate stocks of logistics including PPE (personal protective equipment) is available. State governments have also been advised on the necessary precaution to be taken up on the issue,” the report quoted health ministry officials. “Presently there is no crisis like shortage of PPE. But, storing an adequate quantity of PPE in advance is always a better way to deal with the crisis, if the need arises. We have estimated the requirement of about 50,000 PPE kit for the doctors.”

The death toll in China from the novel coronavirus epidemic has surpassed 1,000 and the number of confirmed cases has risen to over 40,000.

This article first appeared on Quartz.