COVID situation going ‘from bad to worse’

New Delhi, Mar 30: The Covid situation in India has been becoming “bad to worse over the last few weeks,” the Union Health Ministry said on Tuesday. “Trends show the virus is still very active and enter our defences, just when we think we can control it, it sparks back,” At a press conference, Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said the 10 districts with maximum active COVID-19 cases are Pune (59,475), Mumbai (46,248), Nagpur (45,322), Thane (35,264), Nashik (26,553), Aurangabad (21,282), Bengaluru Urban (16,259), Nanded (15,171), Delhi (8,032), Ahmednagar (7,952).
VK Paul, the Chairman of National Expert Committee on Vaccine Administration said at the ministry briefing. Paul, however, denied that the mutated strains have a role to play in this surge. States, he said, are being told to enforce Covid-appropriate behaviour, including the use of masks. “Use the law, use fine as an option…. people need to wear a mask,” he said. More than 56,000 fresh cases were reported this morning, taking the country’s active caseload to nearly 5.5 lakh. “Punjab is neither doing adequate number of tests, nor is isolating infected people properly. Maharashtra has 3.37 lakh active cases. Death has increased from 32 in Feb to 118 now. Karnataka needs to improve testing and isolation,” VK Paul said, discussing the situation in the states.
Delhi, taken as one district, is among top 10 COVID-19 high-burden districts. Eight such districts are from Maharashtra, he added. “We have taken pride that fatality has been low. But the death rate is now at four times — at 271 from 73. The virus needs to be eliminated,” Paul said. “We want to emphasize that without contact tracing, quarantining, isolation etc. we cannot contain the virus,” he added.
“Hospital and ICU preparations have to be readied. If the cases increase rapidly, the healthcare system would be overwhelmed, Paul said.
About surge in case positivity rates, Bhushan said Maharashtra last week had an average positivity rate of 23 per cent, followed by Punjab 8.82 per cent, Chattisgarh 8.24 per cent, Madhya Pradesh 7.82 per cent, Tamil Nadu 2.5 per cent, Karnataka 2.45 per cent, Gujarat 2.22 per cent, and Delhi 2.04 per cent. The average national positivity rate during last week was 5.65 per cent.
All states and Union Territories are reporting a surge in cases and there is a need to significantly and exponentially increase the number of COVID-19 tests. The proportion of RT-PCR tests need to be increased too, Bhushan said.
Denying that there is an Indian variant of the virus, Paul said “There is a concept of virus shift drift and shift. There is no such thing as an Indian strain. It is not a cause to panic”. Mutations, he said, are sporadic and “not significant”. The ministry also said the presence of foreign mutant variants of the virus is low. Of the 11,064 genome samples sequenced in 10 national laboratories, the scientists have found 807 cases of the UK variant, 47 South African variant and one of the Brazilian variant so far.
The Centre has told the states that there should be saturation of vaccination for priority age groups in districts that are reporting a surge in cases. As of March 30 morning, 6.11 lakh vaccine doses have been administered.
All private facilities must be utilised optimally for vaccination, Paul said. The facility must have adequate space for waiting, vaccination and observation room. The hospital must have a functional cold chain storage, adequate number of verifier and vaccinators. They must also have facilities to address adverse events following immunization.
Union health minister Harsh Vardhan has said there are seven more COVID-19 vaccine candidates in various stages of clinical trials, and a further two dozen in pre-clinical trials, At present India has two vaccines – AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin.
Both Covaxin and Covishield are effective against the UK, Brazilian variant of the virus, the government said. Work is on against the South African variant.

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