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Daily cases scale record peaks, government hopes it only reflects massive testing

For the last four days, India has been detecting more than 75,000 new cases, a figure that no other country has touched.

Written by Kaunain Sheriff M | New Delhi | Updated: August 31, 2020 7:07:48 am
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As India discovers a record number of new novel coronavirus cases, more than what any other country has reported on any single day since the outbreak began, the government is taking heart from the fact that there has been no unusual rise in the positivity rate, suggesting that the surge in cases could only be due to the increased testing numbers in recent days.

For the last four days, India has been detecting more than 75,000 new cases, a figure that no other country has touched. The earlier highest single-day spike in any country was in the United States, which on July 19 reported 74,354 cases, according to the World Health Organisation database.

More than 5.85 million people in the US have so far been infected with the virus, compared to 3.54 million in India, but daily new cases in the US have fallen significantly in the last few weeks. For the last three days, it has been reporting about 45,000 new cases.

India has been testing 8 lakh to 9 lakh samples every day, occasionally also crossing the 1-million mark, like it did on Saturday. But the positivity rate – the percentage of people who are found to be positive out of those who are being tested – has been on the decline. That means fewer people are testing positive for the same number of tests, indicating that the disease could actually be spreading slower than earlier.

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Top government sources who are part of the team that is monitoring the pandemic situation in the country, told The Indian Express that the rise in daily numbers, therefore, appeared to be the result of the higher numbers of people being tested.

“We are testing more than one million samples per day. Despite that the positivity rate has remained the same. There has been no exponential jump in positivity. In the last one week, except the US, no country has reached such testing levels,” government sources said.

At present, India’s positivity rate is 8.54 per cent, and it has been steadily declining since the first week of this month after touching a high of 9.01 per cent. Several states, including some crucial high-growth states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, have lower positivity rates compared to the national number.

But the sources conceded that Maharashtra, which accounts for 24 per cent of all active cases, and nearly 40 per cent of all coronavirus-related deaths, continued to be the “biggest concern”.

“Besides Maharashtra, our concern is West Bengal, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Uttar Pradesh. These are the states we are in constant touch with,” a government official said.

The official said certain districts including Pune had “not stabilised” despite the serological survey showing over 50 per cent prevalence of infection in some areas. “Similarly, infections in Sholapur and Vizag districts have not stabilised,” sources said.

“These numbers show that the infection is spreading in certain areas. People need to realise that they are still at risk, and continue to remain vulnerable. Covid-appropriate behaviour is the biggest challenge for both the state and central governments,” sources said.

However, certain areas are showing signs of “stabilisation or decline”, the official said. “For instance, Delhi, even after reporting 2,000 cases per day, is in a stable position; same is the case with Gautam Budh Nagar, Ghaziabad, Agra, Ganjam, and Chennai,” the sources said.

Government officials identified two specific positives from the ramped-up testing. “In any pandemic, there will be a large population that goes undetected. That is what the sero surveillance has shown. However, with this level of testing, one, the number of people who escape the net is now getting smaller and smaller. Therefore, people who come late to the hospital and die would be reduced as reflected in the CFR. Two, it gives us sufficient time to decide whether a positive person requires home isolation or needs to go into a hospital. Detecting late clogs hospitals,” a source said.

Also, as pointed out in the Centre’s meeting with 10 states last week, sources said states that have reported surges – specifically, Maharashtra, Karnataka, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu – have been directed to urgently bring down the high positivity rate among healthcare workers; the states have also been asked to “seriously” consider making containment zones in areas where healthcare workers live, in order to bring the high positivity rate under control.

On Sunday, the country also reported 64,935 recovered cases in the past 24 hours; the recovery rate now stands at 76.61 per cent. While all states have been asked to bring the mortality rate below 1 per cent, the Centre, the sources said, has specifically flagged to states instances of containment zones reporting active cases even after the 14-day incubation period, resulting in the surge.

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