Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan has played down fears the Covid outbreak in India has reached community transmission stage, pointing out that “only 10 states are reporting maximum cases” and that the bulk of these are in “few districts”.
During an hour-long social media interaction on Sunday, the minister also turned away questions about the pandemic peaking in India, stating that different parts of the country were “at multiple trajectories”.
“Large outbreaks in certain districts indicate an acute spread… only 10 states are contributing 77 per cent of active cases. If you see state-specific data, you will find that these cases are concentrated in few districts,” Dr Vardhan said.
“India is at multiple trajectories across the urban, semi-urban and rural populations,” he added.
The Health Minister’s comment comes a day after his Delhi counterpart, Satyendar Jain, took a swipe at the centre over its insistence that India has still not entered the community transmission stage.
Mr Jain, who recovered from a Covid infection in June, pointed to a “large-scale” increase in cases and said “we should have accepted there is community spread”.
“I think we are stuck in technical terms here… but only the ICMR (country’s top medical research body) or the central government can comment on this,” he said.
Over the past several weeks India has seen a steady increase in the number of new infections; more than 80,000 have been recorded every day since September 10. The total number of active cases has crossed 10 lakh and the deaths are nearing 90,000.
Government data this morning did show that India had recorded more recoveries than new infections for a second consecutive day.
Nevertheless, the average increase has raised concerns of a second wave, which, if true, will come as medical infrastructure in major cities are already under stress.
Earlier this month the centre red-flagged 17 districts in three worst-affected states – Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh – but have also, on various occasions, pointed out a small number of states are contributing to the high Covid caseload.
Meanwhile the Health Minister also played down fears that the highly infectious COVID-19 had mutated, saying “no significant or drastic mutations” had been found.
Dr Vardhan also discussed the question of Covid vaccines, reassuring the public that trials of a candidate developed by the University of Oxford and pharma giant AstraZeneca, which had been halted after concerns over a participant’s health, had restarted “after expert committee reappraisals”.
The Serum Institute of India (SII), which has an agreement with the vaccine candidate developers to mass produce it if it passes trials, is also ready to restart its trials.
Last week the minister said he would be the first to take the vaccine, once it is ready, to end a “trust deficit” over its efficacy.