As COVID-19 cases in India near 5900-mark, including 169 deaths on Thursday, the Centre approved the COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health System Preparedness package worth Rs 15,000 crore aimed at boosting national and state health systems to support procurement of essential medical equipment and drugs, and strengthening of surveillance activities. In a letter to the chief secretaries, principal secretaries and commissioners (Health) of all states and UTs, the Health Ministry said the 100 per cent centrally funded package will be implemented in three phases from January 2020 to March 2024.

“With the objectives of emergency COVID-19 response, strengthening national and state health systems to support prevention and preparedness, procurement of essential medical equipment, consumables and drugs, strengthening of surveillance activities, including setting up of laboratories and bio-security preparedness,” the letter said.

According to the letter, the Union Health Ministry is releasing funds for states and Union territories under the National Health Mission for implementation of phase 1 up to June 2020.

“The key activities to be implemented under Phase 1 include support to states and UTs for development of dedicated COVID-19 hospitals, isolation blocks, ICUs with ventilators oxygen supply in hospitals, strengthening of laboratories, hiring of additional human resources and incentives to human resource and community health volunteers,” the letter added.

It also includes strengthening of identified laboratories and expansion of diagnostic capacities and mobility support for sample transport. The ministry has also asked states and UTs to use the funds for the procurement of personal protective equipment, N-95 masks and ventilators over and above what is being procured and supplied by the central government.

The activities to be undertaken also include disinfection of hospitals, government offices, public utilities and ambulances, the letter said.

The project will be implemented in three phases during the period January 2020 to March 2024, Phase 1 from January to June 2020, phase 2 from July to March 2021 and phase 3 from April 2021 to March 2024.

A total of 549 COVID-19 cases and 17 deaths have been reported in the last 24 hours, the Union Health Ministry said in its latest briefing on the 16th day of the nationwide lockdown. India has so far tested 1,30,000 samples.