Seventeen days into the 21-day lockdown, India on Friday recorded the highest single-day spike in novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases, with 896 new cases and 37 deaths being reported in the last 24 hours. The total number of cases is now 6,761 (516 recovered), while the death toll has gone up to 206, of which 82 deaths were reported in the last three days. Maharashtra (97) accounts for almost half the total deaths.
However, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare reiterated that there is no community transmission so far. Joint Secretary, Health Ministry, Lav Agarwal underlined that “just 2%” of the 16,000 samples tested on Thursday were positive, and the number of positive cases with no history of travel or contact — as reported in an ICMR study — were primarily from areas which had reported confirmed cases.
And, a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to speak to chief ministers to decide whether the lockdown should continue or not, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan told state health ministers that the curve usually takes “two to four weeks to flatten”.
“We have managed to control the situation to some extent… it is true that the disease has taken an extraordinary course in some states… we are now in the third week of lockdown. Normally epidemiologists say that it takes two to four weeks to flatten the curve. We should not get impatient and not spare any effort,” Dr Harsh Vardhan said in his video conference with state health ministers.
Pointing to the critical importance of the next few weeks in breaking the chain of transmission, he urged all to ensure social distancing and spread awareness about personal hygiene.
Agarwal, in his daily briefing, maintained that there is no community transmission so far. “If there is community transmission, we will be the first to tell you because it is essential to bring it to your knowledge so that we can become more alert,” he said.
He was responding to questions on an ICMR study which said that 104 people of a random sample size of 5,911 people with Severe Acute Respiratory Infection (SARI) were found to be COVID-19 positive. Of these, 40 did not have any history of travel or contact with a confirmed case.
“I want to bring two figures to your notice. Of the 16,000 tests yesterday, only 320 were positive — just 2%. Secondly, this study on SARI cases shows 1.8% cases positive. These are from the VRDL labs. These labs are primarily in those areas where cases have already been found. Nowhere does the study say that these are in areas where there has not been a single case. The fact that some people have no travel or contact history, it only shows that it needs further investigation,” said Agarwal.
He said there are impediments in proper contact tracing in areas with many cases. Stating that the increasing cases are a cause for concern, Agarwal said, “We need to understand what to do to break the chain of transmission. We should ask if we are practising social distancing with diligence to break that chain.”
With 15,663 samples being tested in the last 24 hours, the total number of tests has now gone up to 1,61,330.
Agarwal also sought to allay fears about possible shortage of hydroxychloroquine after the government’s decision to export it to some countries including the US. “Our projections show that we will need 1.6 crore tablets by the end of the month and we already have 3.28 crore tablets. In addition, 2 crore tablets have been sent to the states for distribution among field workers. All arrangements have been made to ensure adequate production, not just for our current domestic needs but also the future,” he said.
Additional Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, Dammu Ravi said while over 20,000 foreigners have been evacuated from India, the fate of Indians abroad will have to be decided at a later date as the country is still in a state of lockdown.
Meanwhile, a meeting of the 11 empowered groups of officers was held on Friday under the chairmanship of Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister. Among the issues discussed were: supply chain and logistics management for availability of necessary items, efforts undertaken for benefit of stakeholders involved, steps to assist farmers harvest their produce while maintaining social distancing, further confidence building measures and need to ensure percolation of the Home Ministry’s guidelines to the ground level.
“The gathering reviewed and expressed satisfaction on the detailed testing protocol and procedure… It was informed that all chief secretaries of states were issued instructions to arrange shelter for vulnerable groups like migrants and homeless. Also, the Centre is in constant touch with states, and district level monitoring is being undertaken,” said a statement issued by the Press Information Bureau (PIB).
“The production of PPEs is being ramped up and capacity building for healthcare personnel is being ensured. NGOs and civil society groups are also being mobilised,” it said.
The meeting also discussed the need to increase user engagement with the Aarogya Setu app. According to the statement, 39 domestic manufacturers have been cleared for production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); about 20.4 lakh N-95 masks have been supplied to states and further procurement has been initiated; and order for 49,000 ventilators has been placed.
The National Health Authority has launched express empanelment to bring a large number of private hospitals under the Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB PM-JAY) to ensure continued essential treatment for serious illnesses like cancer and heart ailment.
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