As the number of coronavirus cases in the country climbed to 694, including 44 recovered patients and 16 dead, and questions persist about possible community transmission, Health Ministry officials on Thursday said that “one or two anecdotal cases”, where the source of the infection has not been traced, does not mean community transmission has started occurring in the country.
On Thursday, 88 fresh cases were confirmed, and Health Ministry officials maintained that the rate of increase in cases is going down.
Dr R R Gangakhedkar, Head of Department, Epidemiology and Infectious Diseases, at ICMR, also rejected a modelling study that has predicted “300 and 400 million Indians likely to be infected by July”.
Asked about uncertainty over the source of infection among some patients, including one in Tamil Nadu and the cluster of cases among medical professionals in Bhilwara, Rajasthan, Dr Gangakhedkar said: “You have to understand that when contact-tracing is done, travel history is taken into account, (as) also the contact history. Every person will have to reply to everything; you cannot always believe everything they say. One or two anecdotal cases do not make community transmission — we do not have evidence (of community transmission) till now. If it was there, why wouldn’t we tell you?”
He also said, “The media has to be cautious when reporting about all this (community transmission). Otherwise it will create panic. It is not right to do that without evidence.”
According to the World Health Organization, community transmission “is evidenced by the inability to relate confirmed cases through chains of transmission for a large number of cases, or by increasing positive tests through sentinel samples (routine systematic testing of respiratory samples from established laboratories).”
Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary, Health, explained that in Bhilwara one doctor had a travel history and some others who got infected was a case of local transmission. He said: “There are 500-600 cases, contact tracing is on. Even if we do not always get to the source, we do not say community transmission has happened. Only when there is a large number of such cases, and they are widespread, can we say community transmission (is taking place).”
Agarwal said: “One person (who) has travelled to three or four places may not be able to communicate all of that effectively…it is important for us to collectively fight the disease. Do not get into semantics.”
He said that the rate of increase of infections has “stabilised”, but “complete lockdown” is the key.
So far, 17 states have started work on dedicated hospitals for COVID-19.
On the modeling study predicting a huge spike in cases, Dr Gangakhedkar said, “They do not model with concrete evidence. I can say from my experience of AIDS in 2000 (that) they projected 4 crore infections — we are at 56 lakh now. There are a lot of these doomsday predictors. Our steps are so good that if they are followed, numbers will start to fall immediately.”
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