Stressing the need for increased COVID-19 testing, Tata group chief N Chandrasekaran has said the pandemic will not be controlled unless tests can be conducted "at scale". Stating that for this generation "there is little that compares to the six-month period we have just experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic", he said working as one, deploying the group's expertise, collaborating to increase capacity, raising national self-reliance, deploying technology for creative solutions and helping people in tough times have been the themes of this extraordinary time.
"The past few months have been very challenging, but they have also been a great demonstration of the value of collaboration. I am proud of how we have worked together to battle this disease," the Chairman of Tata Sons -- the holding company and promoter of all Tata Group companies -- said in a group newsletter. Chandrasekaran further said, "Now, as we navigate the uncertain journey into the post-pandemic future, we will need to respond according to our principles of simplicity, synergy and scale and, above all, to foster the mindset of 'One Tata'.
"Collaboration has been our watchword, and the pandemic has shown the importance of living by our principles." While sharing several steps taken up by the group, he stressed on the need for increased testing saying, "This pandemic will not be controlled unless we can test at scale."
Chandrasekaran said polymerase chain reaction (PCR) kits are a scarce commodity and reagents for testing have to be imported. Sample collection, processing and transport require specialised equipment and trained personnel. "The Tata group has invested in technology to make testing easier, faster and cheaper," he said, adding the conglomerate has completed a research pilot with the help of the country's most eminent scientists that proved the value of a 'Minimum Testing Maximum Intelligence' approach in the Kolar district of Karnataka.
This process uncovered evidence of silent transmission among high-risk groups such as health workers and police personnel which enabled us to predict the spread of the disease at a time when Kolar had no confirmed positive COVID-19 cases, he stated. A detailed standard operating procedure of the testing strategy for national scaling was handed over to public health agencies to incorporate in lockdown exit efforts, he said adding that "Currently, the Kolar model is being adopted and refined in Jamshedpur."
Chandrasekaran said the group's investments in two novel testing technologies "will not only help the COVID-19 fight but also have a huge potential beyond, for instance, in the diagnosis of other infectious diseases and genetic diseases, as well as in the treatment for cancer. Both technologies are expected to be scaled up within the next quarter".
Tata group, under the leadership of Chairman Emeritus Ratan Tata, had committed Rs 1,500 crore to COVID-19 relief, he said adding "Tata employees have, in addition, contributed tens of crores towards various response projects". Group firms Tata Steel, Tata AutoComp Systems and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) orchestrated a plan to buy large quantities of medical supplies from China, the US, South Korea and domestic sources; and so far over a thousand ventilators and respirators, 4 lakh PPE kits, 35 lakh masks and gloves, and 3.5 lakh testing kits have been procured, he said.
Reiterating the significance of having adequate hospital capacity, Chandrasekaran said, "Outbreaks of COVID-19 around the world have shown that if the health system is overwhelmed, the consequences will be higher mortality rates. "India needs many more quarantine and isolation facilities, ICU beds and dedicated COVID-19 treatment centres."
Tata Sons, supported by Tata Projects, has helped local governments and municipal corporations expand the number of beds, treatment centres and isolation facilities by leveraging the group's network of real estate assets and hospitals, he added.
"Added to this, we are in the process of setting up entirely new COVID-19 treatment facilities. This was made possible by inter-group co-operation: teams from Voltas, Tata Steel and Tata Consulting Engineers, as well as medical experts from Tata Trusts, each providing support and expertise; and group companies like TCS, among others, providing access to leased commercial space. To date, 2,000 beds have either been added or are currently in progress," Chandrasekaran said.
This increase in capacity, if it is pointed in the right direction, will lead to increased self-reliance, he said adding that Tata Motors, Tata AutoComp and Voltas have all brought together their respective expertise in design, manufacturing and procurement, and, in consultation with medical experts from Tata's hospital network and senior government officials, identified products for mass production.
"We've also started producing our own PPE kits with over 9,000 distributed to date to address immediate shortages," he said.