The Centre on Saturday said India’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been “proactive, preemptive and graded”, brushing aside criticism that the 21-day nationwide lockdown imposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was announced without prior planning.

The lockdown has been acknowledged by both experts and Opposition leaders as a necessary move to control the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. However, several leaders have expressed concerns about the economic fallout of the lockdown as lakhs of migrant workers remain stranded without food and supplies in several parts of the country. Reports of these workers attempting to walk back to their villages have also emerged from many parts of the country in the absence of public transport.

In a statement, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting released a timeline of the action taken since the breakout of the global pandemic. It said the Centre had put in place a “comprehensive response system” at the borders of the country, much before the World Health Organisation had declared the coronavirus as a public health emergency of international concern on January 30.

It added that screening of passengers, followed by suspension of visas for foreign visitors and a ban on international flights were done much ahead of any other country. “Thermal screening of incoming international passengers from China and Hong Kong was started on 18th January, much before the first case of coronavirus was detected in India on 30th January,” the statement said.

The Centre also referred to Italy and Spain, saying both of these countries had started screening travellers 25 days and 39 days after the first cases were reported. “Screening of passengers took place at 30 airports, 12 major and 65 minor ports and at land borders,” the statement added. “Over 36 lakh passengers have been screened.”

The government also dismissed criticism that its response system was lenient towards foreign travellers while tackling the pandemic. “The statement that ‘prosperous Indians’ were allowed to return without screening, is preposterous,” it said. “The government took swift action to put in a place a comprehensive and robust system of screening, quarantine and surveillance are part of its robust response to the public health crisis right from the beginning. This covered every traveller, Indians returning after business, or tourism, students as well as foreigners.”

It said that the states were regularly requested to maintain and further improve upon the surveillance system so that the coverage was complete and there were no gaps. “A meticulous system has enabled the states to track down individuals who tried to avoid surveillance or who did not follow quarantine measures,” the Centre added.

The total number of coronavirus cases in India rose to 918 on Saturday, including 19 deaths and 80 recoveries.

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