Context: Formulating effective laws to counter bio-terrorism is one of the important lessons to be learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic, a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health has said in a report. The committee submitted its report to the Rajya Sabha Chairman.

Bioterrorism is the use of bacteria, viruses, or germs to purposely harm large quantities of people or communities. 

  • These “weapons” are spread through air, water, or food sources. Bioterrorism is rare and is used to threaten people, governments, and countries.
  • For example in World War I, German and French agents used glanders and anthrax.

Recommendations by the committee:

  • Strategic partnerships: There is a need for strategic partnerships among different nations for controlling biological agents and counter bio-terrorism.

  • Action plan: The Department of Health and Family Welfare submitted a seven-point action plan for ensuring security against biological weapons. These include 
    • Strengthening disease surveillance, including at animal-human interface, 
    • Training and capacity building for management of public health emergencies arising from use of bio-weapons and 
    • Strengthening research and surveillance activities related to development of diagnostics, vaccines and drugs.
  • More research: The Health Ministry should engage with agencies and actively participate in ongoing international treaties. 

    • It should conduct more research and work towards training and capacity building for management of public health emergencies due to use of bio-weapons,
    • However the international scientific community has rejected that COVID-19 virus was developed as a bio-weapon. 
  • Covid-19 mismanagement: Low testing and shoddy contact tracing were responsible for the spike in cases. 

    • The slew of guidelines issued by the Health Ministry were contradictory in nature. Different quarantine rules imposed by the State governments caused panic.

    • The Union Health Ministry arrangement for hospital beds in government hospitals was “grossly inadequate” 
    • Cost of health service delivery increased due to absence of specific guidelines for COVID treatment in private hospitals as a result of which patients were charged exorbitant fees.
    • Since the demand for oxygen cylinders is rising, necessary measures must  be taken to cap their price.
  • Need for better partnership between the government and private hospitals in wake of the pandemic and shortage of state-run healthcare facilities.

Parliamentary Committee 

  • It means a Committee which is appointed or elected by the House or nominated by the Speaker and which works under the direction of the Speaker and presents its report to the House or to the Speaker.
  • Parliamentary Committees are of two kinds: Standing Committees and Ad hoc Committees. 

Standing Committees are permanent and regular committees which are constituted from time to time in pursuance of the provisions of an Act of Parliament or Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha. 

  • The work of these Committees is of continuous nature
  • The Financial Committees, DRSCs and some other Committees come under the category of Standing Committees. 

Ad hoc Committees are appointed for a specific purpose and they cease to exist when they finish the task assigned to them and submit a report. 

  • The principal Ad hoc Committees are the Select and Joint Committees on Bills. 
  • Railway Convention Committee, Joint Committee on Food Management in Parliament House Complex etc also come under the category of ad hoc Committees.