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No Covid-19 community transmission yet, cases per million population still low in India: Health Ministry

The Centre's assertion came on a day India registered a record single-day surge of 24,879 COVID-19 cases, taking the caseload to 7,67,296. The death toll climbed to 21,129 with 487 new fatalities.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: July 9, 2020 8:15:03 pm
People in the containment area are breaking the rules by ignoring the lockdown on thursday, North 24 pargana, Express Photo Shashi Ghosh

After nearly over a month, the Union Health Ministry Thursday held a press briefing to address the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) situation in the country. While the ministry categorically denied India reaching the stage of community transmission, it admitted that there have been some localised outbreaks of the virus.

The Centre’s assertion came on a day India registered a record single-day surge of 24,879 Covid cases, taking the caseload to 7,67,296. The death toll climbed to 21,129 with 487 new fatalities. The ministry maintained that the pandemic situation is still better in the country on the basis of cases per million population in the world.

Here is a list of all topics that the Health Ministry touched upon

On community transmission

Despite some health experts suggesting that the stage of community transmission has set in, the Health Ministry has consistently denied this claim. On Thursday, the ministry said India has not yet reached community transmission stage of Covid-19 and that there have been just some localised outbreaks.

“Even today, the health minister (Harsh Vardhan) clearly said after the GoM that India has not reached the stage of community transmission. In some geographical areas, there have been localised outbreaks,” Rajesh Bhushan, Officer on Special Duty, Ministry of Health, said. “We should not forget that in our country, 49 districts alone account for 80 per cent of COVID-19 cases. In a country of more than 733 districts, if 49 districts account for 80 per cent cases, then it is not justified to talk about community transmission.”

KMC workers spray disinfectant at a contentment zone in Telengabagan, North Kolkata on Thursday.

Earlier in the day, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan had denied community spread of coronavirus in the country. “During our discussions today, experts again stated that there is no community transmission in India. There may be some localised pockets where transmission is high but as a country, there’s no community transmission,” Dr Harsh Vardhan was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.

According to the WHO, community transmission is said to be taking place when the source of the contagion is not known, i.e. when one is unable to trace an infection back to a carrier who has travelled in an affected area, or through contact with a person who has the disease.

On managing COVID-19 caseload

India currently has over 7.67 lakh confirmed cases with 21,129 deaths and is the third worst-hit nation across the globe. Despite this, the ministry said that the country has managed the situation and healthcare infrastructure is not unduly burdened. “We are the second-most populous country of the world. Despite a population of 1.3 bn people, India has been able to manage COVID-19 relatively well. If you look at cases per million population it still remains amongst lowest in the world,” Bhushan said.

“When we talk of caseload of COVID-19 in India, it is 2,69,000 people. This tells us that at the end of the day we’ve managed a situation where our health care infrastructure is not unduly burdened and is not creaking due to the pressure,” he added.

He said India has nearly 538 cases per million population as per the WHO situation report. “India’s cases of death per million population is 15.0 while the global average is more than its four times, at 69.3,” he said.

On ICMR’s August 15 deadline for Covaxine

On being asked about the August 15 deadline set by ICMR for its COVID-19 vaccine, Bhushan said, “Please don’t read something which is not there in DG-ICMR’s letter. Letter’s intent is only to expedite duly approved clinical trials without compromising on safety and security concerns.”

The August 15 timeline is mentioned in a letter that ICMR director general Balram Bhargava wrote to the 12 hospitals selected for carrying out clinical trials of Covaxin, a candidate vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech, a Hyderabad-based pharmaceutical company, in partnership with Pune-based National Institute of Virology, an ICMR laboratory.

The ICMR has already defended its claim, saying the letter by DG-ICMR to investigators of the clinical trial sites was meant to cut unnecessary red tape, without bypassing any necessary process, and speed up recruitment of participants and that its aim was to complete these phases at the earliest, so that population-based trials for efficacy could be initiated without delay.

The August 15 timeline is mentioned in a letter that ICMR director general Balram Bhargava wrote to the 12 hospitals selected for carrying out clinical trials of Covaxin.

On the status of vaccine, Bhushan said, “Bharat Biotech and Cadila Healthcare are developing vaccines. Both vaccines completed animal toxicity studies after approval. DCGI has permitted these two vaccines to go in for phase 1 and 2 clinical trials. Trials are yet to begin. Hope it begins soon.”

A vaccine usually goes through three phases of human trials. The Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation has given approvals for phase I and II trials so far. According to details from Clinical Trials Registry of India (CTRI), the Bharat Biotech India (BBIL) in its application estimated phase I and II trials to take a year and three months, including at least a month for phase I alone. Experts have questioned how all three phases can be concluded within a month and a half.

On coronavirus being airborne

Asked about a WHO spokesperson saying that there are indications that the virus may be airborne, Bhushan said, “We are keeping abreast with the information coming out of WHO headquarters on this particular aspect, but you would all appreciate and realise that even during the initial stages of the outbreak, we and the PM had repeatedly emphasised ‘do-gaz doori’ (Two-metre distance).

“So this concept protects you from small droplets that may remain suspended in air for longer period of time.”

It is an evolving and dynamic situation, he added.

The WHO issued its statement Tuesday after over 239 scientists in 32 countries wrote to the agency outlining evidence showing smaller particles can infect people. Because those smaller exhaled particles can linger in the air, the scientists in the group had urged the WHO to update its guidance.

ICMR is also planning a follow-up seroprevalence study pan India to the earlier sero-surveillance that they had done for mid-April infections, Bhushan said.

(With inputs from ANI, PTI)

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