THE UNION Health Ministry said on Friday that the doubling time for novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in India had risen to 6.2 days over the past week, as compared to three days before the nationwide lockdown began on March 25.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Friday said three strains of the virus have been detected in the country so far. While this will have no bearing on the efficacy of a drug, as and when it is developed, it may affect the efficacy of a vaccine, said Dr R R Gangakhedkar, head of epidemiology and infectious diseases, ICMR.
“Before the lockdown, the doubling rate was three days. Going by the number of cases in the last seven days, the doubling rate has been 6.2 days. In 19 states and Union Territories, the doubling rate is less than the national average,” Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary, Health Ministry, said at the daily briefing.
These states and UTs are: Kerala, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, Puducherry, Chandigarh, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Assam, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.
Agarwal said the average growth factor of cases between March 15 and 31 was 2.1, while it was 1.2 between April 1 and 15. “There has been a 40% decline in growth, and this has come with an increase in testing of samples. We are doing better than most countries,” he said.
In the last 24 hours, 1,076 new cases and 32 deaths were reported, taking the total to 13,835 cases (1,766 recovered) and 452 deaths. While the number of new cases has gone up as compared to Thursday (826), this is still lower than Wednesday (1,118) and Tuesday (1,463).
With 31,083 tests being done in the last 24 hours, 3,35,123 samples have been tested so far.
Describing the virus strains detected in India, Dr Gangakhedkar clarified that since the first cases came from abroad, the strains differed according to the country of origin.
“The first cases were from Wuhan (of airlifted students) and these are similar to the Chinese strain, the sequence is the same… Then cases came in from Italy and Iran. For Iran, there are some fragments in the genome that resemble the Chinese strain. In case of Italy and the US, because there is a lot of travel — especially in Europe — there is a little bit in the genome from different countries,” he said.
“The important question for us is which is the predominant variety. We will know that in some time, but it is unlikely that if a drug is developed, it will show different efficacy for different strains, because all strains use the same mechanism for replicating within the cells. It may be different for vaccines though. The good thing is that it does not seem to mutate too often,” he explained.
Responding to a question on the efficacy of BCG in COVID-19 prevention, Dr Gangakhedkar said there isn’t enough evidence currently to take an official position one way or the other. He said the ICMR is planning a trial to test its efficacy in preventing COVID-19. This will help the authorities take a call on whether the vaccine should be given to healthcare workers. At present, the advice for healthcare workers is to take hydroxychloroquine.
While BCG is a part of the universal immunisation programme in India, the efficacy of the vaccine, which is usually given at birth, does not last beyond 15 years.
“BCG does not even give complete protection against TB, it may be partial protection against TB meningitis. Also, it needs revaccination after 15 years, so if I am 70 and I have COVID-19, it is unlikely to make any difference. However, it does seem to have some immune-boosting properties — it is an immunomodulator. We are planning a study, which will probably start next week, to test its efficacy,” he said.
There are also some reports on the leprosy vaccine showing promise against COVID-19.
Agarwal said efforts are on to develop indigenous scientific capacity to strengthen the anti-COVID armoury in the country. By May, India will be in a position to produce 10 lakh RT-PCR and 10 lakh serological kits per month indigenously, he said. Efforts are also on to produce antivirals Umifenovir and Favipiravir. There are currently 1,919 dedicated COVID hospitals with 1,73,000 isolation and 21,800 ICU beds, he added.
The 12th meeting of the Group of Ministers (GoM) on COVID-19, chaired by Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, was also held on Friday. Among the issues discussed were containment and management of COVID-19, action taken so far, current status of social distancing measures, measures to strengthen the capacity of states, and equipping medical institutes with PPEs, ventilators and other essential equipment.
Later, at a meeting with the Delhi Lieutenant Governor, Health Minister and senior officials, Dr Harsh Vardhan expressed concern over reports of denial of treatment to patients. “We need to take a serious view on this,” he said.
He instructed all hospital medical superintendents to take proper care of non-COVID-19 patients too.