India is facing an increasingly severe Covid-19 situation in some districts and the whole country is potentially at risk and all efforts to contain the virus should be taken, said Dr V.K. Paul, Member (Health) of the NITI Aayog, at a press conference on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Maharashtra continued to report the highest daily new Covid-19 cases with 31,643 in the last 24 hours, followed by Punjab with 2,868 and Karnataka with 2,792 new cases, informed an official statement. With this, Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Gujarat cumulatively accounted for 78.56 percent of the new cases, according to the Central government.
Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan added that Maharashtra also accounts for eight out of the ten districts with the most number of active cases across the country. The ten districts are Pune, Mumbai, Nagpur, Thane, Nashik, Aurangabad, Bengaluru Urban, Nanded, Delhi, and Ahmednagar.
However, the Centre also signalled on Tuesday that Maharashtra’s call for door-to-door Covid vaccination might not be met for now. The health ministry, though, indicated that it has received no formal request yet from the state, which is seeing the highest numbers in the emergent second wave of the infection.
Earlier, the Brihanmumbai Corporation chief Iqbal Chahal had told reporters, “We requested the state to in turn request the Centre to allow us to do door-to-door vaccination”. “When the Centre’s team had visited 10 days ago, I had requested them to allow us to go door to door, so we can go on vaccination drive in a big way,” he said, adding the request was also made during the Centre’s video conference with the states earlier this month.
However, Rajesh Bhushan said, “Till date, we have not received any specific update about what you call door to door vaccination”. The clarification came amid the government’s insistence on “saturation” vaccination in districts that are showing a surge. The Centre also responded that there is a need to exponentially increase tests in states and Union Territories that are reporting a spike in Covid-19 cases. “We spoke to representatives of these states. We asked them why they are not increasing testing when cases are increasing. It is essential to increase testing with a focus on RT-PCR tests. Rapid Antigen tests should be used for screening in densely populated areas,” Bhushan said.
Bhushan, in a letter addressed to the Chief Secretary of all the states and Union territories, also emphasised, “…efficient implementation of “Test Track and Treat” remains the only proven strategy for control of the transmission. Each district, irrespective of whether it is seeing a surge right now, or is with a current low burden, should make a District Action Plan with clear timelines and responsibilities.” It added that public health measures to contain the virus by quarantining and testing individuals suspected to be positive including close contacts of positive persons (at least 25 to 30 such contacts per positive person) shall be done in every state.
Bhushan’s letter further elaborated that the said action plan shall include mapping of cases, reviewing sub-area wise indicators, reviewing the geographical spread of the infection on a day-to-day basis and setting up of Emergency Operations Centres.
Apart from the action plan, the Health Secretary suggested that individual actions such as the proper wearing of masks covering the nose and mouth, maintaining a distance of 6 feet from others, and sanitizing one’s hands frequently shall be checked and enforced.
In the letter, Bhushan outlined, “After having successfully brought down the number of new Covid-19 cases from mid-September 2020 to February 2021, India is now witnessing a rapid rise in cases. You have been leading the effort of Covid pandemic management with your teams so far. The current rise in cases is of concern and has the potential of overwhelming health care systems, unless checked right now.”
Underscoring that “any complacency at this stage, and at any level, will have heavy costs”, the Centre also said, “All districts with high case load and fast growth of cases must ensure 100% saturation vaccination of the priority age group of 45 year and above, in the coming two weeks.”
In what is billed as the largest vaccination drive in the world, as many as 6,11,13,354 vaccine doses have been administered through 10,07,091 sessions till 8 am on March 30. The Union Health Secretary also informed that the recovery rate in the country stands at 94 percent and the case fatality rate stands at 1.34 percent.
The country’s present active caseload now stands at 4.47 per cent of India’s total positive cases. According to Bhushan, the weekly national average positivity rate is 5.65 percent. Maharashtra has a weekly average of 23 percent, Punjab 8.82 percent, Chhattisgarh 8 percent, Madhya Pradesh 7.82 percent, Tamil Nadu 2.50 percent, Karnataka 2.45 percent, Gujarat 2.2 percent, and Delhi 2.04 percent.
The health secretary also said that 807 cases of the UK strain, 47 cases of the South African variant, and one case of the Brazilian variant of the Covid-19 virus have been found in India so far.