There is now official confirmation that India has logged over 36,21,245 total Covid-19 cases, even as around 27,74,801 cases have recovered. This is a massive number that should have sent alarm bells ringing in the Health Ministry. However, no signs of urgency are being reported yet, and Covid-19 updates are shared as usual. Not much is being shared on plans to contain the spread, which even to a lay person, seems to be on the rise as the latest unlock opens more venues, and modes of transport in cities.
Official Covid-19 trackers continue to highlight the recovered cases, more than they do new infections. This is perhaps done to dissuade panic. However, it also seems to be falsely letting people believe that the situation was getting better. Improper usage, or non usage of masks, and lack of social distancing, is on the rise across the cities.
?#COVID19 India Tracker
(As on 01 September, 2020, 08:00 AM)
— #IndiaFightsCorona (@COVIDNewsByMIB) September 1, 2020
Now experts have also weighed in as warned that one must “avoid false hope on coronavirus vaccine, discontinue lockdown,” reports the India Today.
A Joint Task Force of eminent public health experts have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said that “it must be assumed that an effective vaccine against the novel coronavirus would not be available in the near future’.” They also warned that “any false sense of hope that this panacea is just around the corner must be avoided.” A statement was issued by the experts from the Indian Public Health Association (IPHA), Indian Association of Preventive and Social Medicine (IAPSM), and Indian Association of Epidemiologists (IAE). They stated that, “Vaccines do not have any role in current ongoing coronavirus pandemic control in India. It must be assumed that an effective vaccine would not be available in the near future. We must avoid a false sense of hope that this panacea is just around the corner.”
India Today report adds that this is the third joint statement made by the experts who put on record that, “Vaccines with proven efficacy and safety, as and when available, should be administered according to the WHO’s ‘strategic allocation’ approach or a multi-tiered risk-based approach.” They have also added that a “lockdown as a strategy for control should be discontinued.”
Even though there has been no admission of any community transmission of Covid-19, by ICMR or the health ministry, this task force has stated that “cluster restrictions should be considered only in areas with no community transmission.”
It has also listed “action plans” for the government to enact as the Coronavirus infection has now reached rural areas across the country. India has once again recorded a surge in Covid-19 cases, over 80,000 new cases were reported on Monday. This is already the highest in the world as far as single-day cases are concerned.
According to the India Today report, “Lockdown as a strategy for control should be discontinued” and “geographically limited restrictions for short periods may be imposed in epidemiologically defined clusters. Cluster restrictions should be considered only in areas with no community transmission.” The focus, the experts state “should be to prevent deaths from coronavirus and not on containing the infection.”
They reiterate that the “Vaccine has no role in current ongoing pandemic control. However, whenever available, the vaccine may play a role in providing personal protection to high-risk individuals like HCWs and the elderly with co-morbidities.” The experts have also noted that “Quarantine and Isolation Policy should be community-friendly. The present policies, where houses of all persons who test positive, are stamped, isolated by barricades, is creating fear in society,” stated the news report adding that the experts suggest, “This practice should be abandoned immediately.”
The government meanwhile, has stated that the Health Ministry will “rush Central teams to UP, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Odisha” as these states “are seeing a sudden surge in the number of COVID cases and some of them are also reporting high mortality. The teams will support the State efforts towards strengthening containment, surveillance, testing and efficient clinical management of the positive cases. They shall also guide the States in effectively managing the challenges related to timely diagnosis and follow up.”
The Central Government has been deputing Central teams “from time to time to visit various States to interact with the authorities and get a first hand understanding of the challenges and issues being faced by them so as to strengthen their ongoing activities and remove bottlenecks, if any.”
.@MoHFW_INDIA has decided to deploy high level Central teams to four States of #UttarPradesh, #Jharkhand, #Chhattisgarh & #Odisha. These States are seeing a sudden surge in the number of #COVID cases & some of them are also reporting high mortality.@PMOIndia #IndiaFightsCorona pic.twitter.com/bjqUzEB6AW
— Dr Harsh Vardhan (@drharshvardhan) September 1, 2020
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had issued new guidelines on August 29 for opening up of more activities in areas outside the Containment Zones. Unlock 4, comes into effect from September 1. Some allowances include reopening Metro rail services from September 7, by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs/ Ministry of Railways, in consultation with MHA. Social/ academic/ sports/ entertainment/ cultural/ religious/ political functions and other congregations will be permitted with a ceiling of 100 persons, with effect from September 21. However, such gatherings must have “mandatory wearing of face masks, social distancing, provision for thermal scanning and hand wash or sanitizer.” Open air theatres will be permitted to open with effect from September 21.
However, “schools, colleges, educational and coaching institutions will continue to remain closed for students and regular class activity up to September 30.”
It is crucial to note that the government data confirms that states states like Karnataka “crossed the 1-lakh mark and stood at 1,00,941 patients” and Andhra Pradesh “reported over 10,000 cases for the fifth straight day,” on Sunday “its tally of 4.24 lakh saw it go past Tamil Nadu to the second spot behind Maharashtra in the overall infection count.” In Maharashtra, “a committee comprising Vice Chancellors and education experts in Maharashtra has been tasked to prepare timetable for conducting the final semester / year examinations as directed by the University Grants Commission.” The official information continues to hint at the situation being under control, even though global experts have begun warning of tough days ahead.
Social scientist, economist Jean Drèze in his recent article for the Scientific American has noted that “India Is in denial about the Covid-19 crisis”. He has noted that the number of “recorded cases in India are likely to be a small fraction of all Covid-19 infections.” He highlights that the “ratio of infections to recorded cases seems particularly large in India—at least 20:1, judging from two recent serological surveys, in Delhi and Mumbai respectively. This would mean that India already had more than 50 million Covid-19 infections, compared with a recorded figure of 2.5 million.”
The silver lining he stated was that, “for reasons that are as yet unclear, Covid-19 mortality in India seems relatively low. The same surveys suggest that the infection-fatality rate (IFR) may be as low as one per thousand. If so, India may not be heading towards a major mortality crisis, or rather a major crisis of Covid-19 mortality, at least relative to normal levels of mortality. Covid-19 deaths so far add up to less than 1 percent of annual deaths from all causes in India.”
However he too has warned that now, with “tax revenue a fraction of normal levels, state governments are finding it difficult to provide more than symbolic relief” to the poor, and “the central government is doing little to help them”. He points out that after the initial Central Government’s “relief measures during the national lockdown, such as free food-grain rations of five kilograms per person per month for two thirds of India’s population”, it now “seems to have lost interest and left it to the state governments to handle the crisis.”
He states that the “Since Covid-19 has a recovery rate of more than 99 percent in India.In its hurry to turn India into a viswaguru (world leader), the Modi government seems to have little patience for a humanitarian crisis. Yet denying a crisis is the surest way to make it worse.”
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