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Coronavirus in India: 150% surge in 70 districts, PM Modi calls for quick, decisive steps

As many as 70 districts have reported a 150 per cent increase in the number of Covid-19 cases over the past few weeks, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told a virtual meeting of Chief Ministers.

Written by Kaunain Sheriff M | New Delhi |
Updated: March 18, 2021 1:08:01 pm
Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacts with the Chief Ministers on COVID-19 situation, through video conferencing, in New Delhi, Wednesday, March 17, 2021. (PTI)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday urged states to take “quick and decisive steps” to stop the emerging “second peak” of the Covid-19 pandemic, including increasing the number of vaccination centres, taking corrective steps to reduce vaccine wastage, and augmenting RT PCR tests with special focus on smaller cities that are witnessing a surge.

As many as 70 districts have reported a 150 per cent increase in the number of cases over the past few weeks, the Prime Minister told a virtual meeting of Chief Ministers.

“After showing a reduction in cases, some states are now reporting a sudden surge in cases… We are also seeing Maharashtra and MP reporting very high test positivity rate. Even those districts, which had protected themselves until now and were safe zones, are showing signals (of rise in cases). Seventy districts of the country have witnessed a 150 per cent rise in the last few weeks. If we do not stop this growing pandemic now, then a countrywide outbreak can occur. We need to take quick and decisive steps,” Modi said.

For the first time since vaccination was opened up for the general public at the beginning of the month, the Prime Minister flagged multiple concerns emerging from the inoculation drive.

“There has been an increase in the pace of vaccination in the country and vaccination rates have crossed more than 3 million in a single day. But at the same time, we take the problem of wastage of vaccine doses very seriously,” Modi said.

India covid-19 Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacts with the Chief Ministers on COVID-19 situation, through video conferencing, in New Delhi, Wednesday, March 17, 2021. (PTI)

He specifically pointed to vaccine wastage to the tune of 10 per cent in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh. “States have to examine why vaccines are being wasted. There has to be a mechanism for monitoring this every evening. By wasting doses of the vaccine, we are denying another beneficiary the right to get vaccinated. States have to immediately correct the drawbacks of planning and governance at the local level to reduce vaccine wastage. States have to target zero wastage,” he said.

Modi also asked states to open more vaccination centres, and to stay vigilant about vaccine expiration dates. “…We have to increase the number of vaccination centres, both in private and government facilities,” he said. “If the centres work proactively, there will be reduction in wastage of vaccines. There is also the issue of vaccine expiry dates: the doses that have arrived first should be used first; however, if the states use doses that have arrived later, then again there could be a situation of wastage.”

The Prime Minister asked states to pay special attention to the surge in cases being reported in small cities that were earlier considered safe zones. “We have to pay special attention that this time, those regions in the vicinity of tier 2 and tier 3 cities, which were not affected in the initial phase, are now being affected. If the virus reaches tier 2 and tier 3 cities, then it can also enter the villages, and handling the surge in villages can be very challenging. Therefore we have to increase testing in small cities; we have to pay special attention to the referral system, and to the ambulance network in small cities,” he said.

Modi also highlighted that in the second wave, the spread of infection is dispersed. “…Because now the whole country has opened up for travel and the number of people travelling has also increased. Therefore, there is need to build a mechanism for sharing information on travel among the states,” he said.

On testing, the Prime Minister said several states were giving more emphasis to the rapid antigen test, which can result in false negatives. “We have to be serious about test, track and treat, as we have been doing for the last one year. It is important to track every infected person’s contacts in the shortest time, and to keep the RT-PCR test rate above 70 per cent. Many states like Kerala, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, and UP are giving more emphasis to rapid antigen tests. This needs to change quickly,” Modi said.

He stressed the “need to identify mutants of coronavirus”. Also, states have to increase the “responsibility for following the SOP for surveillance of contacts of travellers coming from abroad”, he said.

Modi flagged governance issues in the handling of the new surge, underlining that districts with low testing were also reporting low vaccine coverage.

“The seriousness of the local administration about the use of masks is going down. It is important to immediately address governance-related problems at the regional level. Why is it that districts recording low testing also have low vaccination coverage? This is a test of good governance. The confidence that came from our achievements in the battle against the coronavirus should not turn into negligence,” he said.

The Prime Minister directed states to introduce reorientation programmes for frontline workers for effective surveillance and containment measures. “…Public should not be brought to panic mode; however, at the same time, we have to also get rid of trouble. The states need to strategise by incorporating lessons from past experience: there is a strict need for provision of micro containment zones. There has to be reorientation on SoPs for pandemic response teams working in the districts on containment and surveillance,” he said.

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