IN THE FIRST week of March 2020, the ICMR, in its roadmap to tackle the pandemic, recommended a ban on international travel and the imposition of a strict national lockdown. It was the first such organisation to do so.
In early February 2020, as the pandemic slowly began to gain a foothold in India, only one laboratory—the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune—was testing for Covid-19, and the testing kits and reagents were being imported. By August 2020, the number of labs performing the RT-PCR tests for Covid-19 rose to 1,596. At present the number is over 2,500. To put it into perspective, starting from less than 100 tests a day, there was a thousand-fold increase in just 60 days. This was historic in the annals of India’s public health. By January 2021, 14 lakh people were being tested every day. Till date, the ICMR enabled India to test 50 crore Covid-19 samples.
ICMR-NIV collaborated with Bharat Biotech to develop Covaxin. Final analysis of phase 3 clinical trials shows 77.8 per cent efficacy against symptomatic Covid-19, and 93.4 per cent efficacy against severe symptomatic Covid-19.
During the pandemic, the strengths and capacities at all the ICMR institutes were pooled together to get the best possible outputs in the area of sero-surveys, vaccine-rollouts, testing, creating depots for storage, distribution of commodities and coordination with states. The ICMR pivoted from its routine ongoing work and research to leverage its capacities holistically.