Even as a Tablighi Jamaat congregation in the Capital has emerged as a common link between many COVID-19 positive cases, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said on Tuesday that the “probability” of infection in India was still “very low” as compared to the US, now the global hotspot of the outbreak.
With 146 positive cases, including two deaths, being reported in the last 24 hours, the total count has gone up to 1,397 (124 recovered, 35 dead).
Dr R R Gangakhedkar, head of the department of epidemiology and infectious diseases, ICMR, said there were many differences between the outbreaks in India and the US.
Responding to a question on whether India should change the guidelines on use of face masks, he said: “You need to understand, where risk of exposure is more, you need masks. You wear a mask so that you do not touch your face or nose. There is a hell-and-heaven difference in the outbreak here and in America. My probability of infection is very low, that is why we are saying only a person who has symptoms should wear masks. If you make a habit of not touching your face, there is no need to fear. This depends on the risk of exposure.”
This comes amid reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US, which had so far said only people who are sick should wear masks, is considering changing the guidance.
At 1,64,620 cases and 3,170 deaths, the US is now the worst hit country, overtaking both China (82,241 cases) and Italy (1,01,739 cases).
Explained | Rate of COVID-19 spread in India, world
Globally, there are now 7,77,798 cases of COVID-19 and 37,272 deaths.
In India, officials have said the rate of increase in cases slowed down after the nationwide lockdown began from March 24 midnight.
“We request people that not everyone needs to wear masks. There are clear guidelines on when a mask should be worn. If you are not feeling well and want to go to a hospital, you should definitely wear a mask. Our primary focus is on social distancing. There are reports of homemade masks, we are examining the matter,” said Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary, Health Ministry, emphasising that masks are a “scarce” commodity.
Till last week, hospitals across the country had a total stock of 11.95 lakh N95 masks. An additional 5 lakh masks were distributed in the last two days, and another 1.40 lakh on Tuesday. Another 10 lakh masks will be part of the PPE kits being sourced from Singapore.
The N95 masks are currently being supplied by two domestic manufacturers with a combined capacity to produce 50,000 masks per day. Efforts are on to increase daily production to 1 lakh by next week.
The DRDO is also collaborating with local manufacturers to produce about 20,000 N99 masks per day within a week.
Even as the entire containment strategy now focuses on identifying hotspots and putting them under surveillance with increased testing, Agarwal said: “From the government’s perspective, even a single case is a hotspot… you have to understand that it is a very dynamic situation, what is a hotspot today will not remain one if containment is done. Similarly, a success story today can turn into a hotspot tomorrow.”
While 42,788 samples have been tested so far, including 4,346 in the last 24 hours, the 47 private laboratory chains which have been approved have together tested about 1,800 samples. Sources said some of them have written to the government, saying that that they are hobbled by the lack of testing kits.
Meanwhile, a four-year project, with $1 billion from the World Bank’s COVID-19 Fast-Track Facility, called the India COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness has been launched.
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