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Covid R-number rising in eight states and UTs, cautions Govt

Dr V K Paul, head of the Covid-19 task force, said the rising reproduction number, or R-value, coupled with the dominant presence of the highly infectious Delta variant, meant that the pandemic is still “raging” in India, and is far from over.

Written by Kaunain Sheriff M | New Delhi |
Updated: August 4, 2021 5:50:02 am
Covid-19The Centre further said that 44 districts across 12 states and Union Territories reported more than 10 per cent weekly positivity rate in the week ending August 2. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

Sounding a Covid-19 alarm all over again, the Centre said Tuesday the fact that the reproduction number, a key metric measuring how fast the pandemic is spreading, has risen beyond 1 in eight states and Union Territories, is “truly a cause of concern”, and indicated the possibility of a further rise in cases in the coming days.

Dr V K Paul, head of the Covid-19 task force, said the rising reproduction number, or R-value, coupled with the dominant presence of the highly infectious Delta variant, meant that the pandemic is still “raging” in India, and is far from over.

He made these remarks on the day the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said there are eight states and UTs in the country the R-value has risen above 1: Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir (1.4); Lakshadweep (1.3); Tamil Nadu, Mizoram, Karnataka (1.2); Kerala and Puducherry (1.1).

R-value estimates the number of people that an infected person is transmitting the disease to, on an average. A value of 1 means every infected person, on an average, is transmitting the disease to one more person. A value greater than 1, therefore, means the pandemic is in an ascendant phase, and that cases will rise.

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“We know that the Delta variant has spread in the country. This is a very dominant problem. This variant has caused a 30 per cent increase in cases in the US. In the Western Pacific region, there has been a 25 per cent increase in cases. The pandemic is still raging and it still persists. We are concerned that some states have a reproduction number in the wrong direction,” Paul said.

“We have to remember that this number had come down to 0.6 and below. If it is rising in some states, then it is truly a cause for concern. It shows that the virus wishes to expand and we must curb it,” he said.

He also expressed concern over just above 50 per cent vaccination coverage in the most vulnerable age group.

Covid-19 MHA had earlier asked states to take steps to control crowds (File/PTI)

“In the 45-60 age group, 52 per cent have received their single dose and 19.4 per cent have received the second dose; in above 60 years, 55.6 per cent have received first and 27 per cent have received the second dose. Advanced age is a risk factor. If we have to reduce the effect of the pandemic, in terms of mortality, the vaccination for the elderly age group has to be increased at a fast pace. It is one of the most important preparations for the future surge,” he said.

Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, said: “The reproduction number shows (to) how many persons can an infected person spread the virus. It is considered that a reproduction number of more than 1 signifies an increase in case trajectory, and to that extent, it is important to contain the spread. In the US, Canada and Australia, the Rt is 1.2. A few days ago, India was reporting an Rt of 0.88; however, in the last few days, in limited territories, there has been an increase.”

Paul said: “The reproduction number in many parts of the country has increased above 1, and is increasing. And the continuing high active case load in the state of Kerala is a very significant worry. There are eight other states which are cause of concern. It only emphasises the need for us to use the full armamentarium of pandemic control and pandemic response.”

The Rt increasing above 1, he said, indicates a further push for aggressive localised containment. “The fact remains that if we believe that the situation is comparatively stable, and to some extent the numbers have come down, then we have to do contact tracing. We have to make a containment zone where the cluster of cases is being reported to ensure the virus is contained. We have to localise the chain of transmission,” he said.

The Ministry said India recorded weekly positivity of less than 2 per cent for the first time in the past three months: Between July 27 and August 2, the weekly positivity rate stood at 1.98 per cent.

Covid-19 Crowds return to the streets of Manali as Covid-induced restrictions are eased (File/PTI)

“However, there are limited areas and districts where high case positivity is being reported and 44 districts are reporting more than 10 per cent positivity rate,” Agarwal said.

The Ministry said that in the week ending August 1, 57 districts in the country reported more than 100 daily cases as compared to 107 districts in the week ending July 1.

The Ministry highlighted that 18 districts in the country are reporting an increasing trend in daily new cases during the last four weeks.

“It is important to understand that 47.5 per cent cases of the country are coming from these 18 districts. Specifically, ten districts from Kerala, in the last one week, contributed to 40.6 per cent cases,” Agarwal said.

These districts are Malappuram, Thrissur, Kozhikode, Ernakulam, Kottayam, Alappuzha, Kasaragod, Pathanamthitta, Wayanad and Idukki in Kerala; Ahmednagar, Solapur and Beed in Maharashtra; Chandel and Noney in Manipur; Lower Subansiri in Arunachal Pradesh; South West Khasi Hills in Meghalaya; and Aizawl in Mizoram.

Paul said: “It is a mixed picture. The districts reporting more than 100 cases are going down; there is also a decrease in high positivity districts. There is an overall decline in the positivity rate. However, there is a signal that new districts are getting added in high positivity rate districts.”

On Tuesday, Parliament was informed that the production capacity of Covaxin is projected to be increased from 25 million doses per month to around 58 million doses per month.

Separately, during the briefing, Paul said the delay in ramping up Covaxin production was due to standardisation processes at Bharat Biotech’s new Bengaluru facility.

“On the issue of Covaxin, I have already explained earlier that quantum jump in the effort to increase Bharat Biotech’s capacity will happen when the Bangalore facility is activated. The vaccines have started arriving from here; there was a slight delay due the standardisation processes… in addition to this, we will receive 6 million doses from their Ankleshwar plant, which was not part of their original plant… On the PSUs, it is my current information, to an extent, we may start getting 2 million doses of Covaxin by late August-September by Indian Immunologicals Limited,” Paul said.

On reports of “undercounting of cases” being analysed on the basis of national serosurvey, he called it “biased and misplaced”.

“I want to make it clear that the serosurvey is done with the specific purpose for enunciating how many people have previous experience to Covid-19. All serosurvey conducted by ICMR is to give a national picture; it is not meant to cover granularity at the level of state. Having said that, if seropositivity is found in a person, it shows there has been exposure. It doesn’t mean that person got a serious disease… It is well known that in most cases, above 80 per cent, there are no symptoms. That situation cannot be equated with a situation where there is a significant chance of mortality,” he said.

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