NEW DELHI: India has entered the third or community transmission stage of the COVID-19 outbreak despite a 21-day lockdown enforced earlier this week by the Union government, official sources have told this newspaper.
“We have detected early signs of community transmission as at least three patients without any international travel history or contact history with COVID-19 positive people have been found to be infected,” a top official in the Indian Council of Medical Research said.
“These cases are in high viral density areas and all the data is being analysed now to understand the extent of outbreak progression. It’s obvious now that community transmission cannot be stopped by any means,” he added.
The admission came as the country registered the highest jump in positive cases in a day. India now has 918 COVID 19 cases. The total number of confirmed cases stood at 724 on Friday morning.
The detection of community transmission, authorities explained, came as now all patients with severe acute respiratory illnesses (SARI) hospitalized across the country are being tested for COVID 19, apart from symptomatic travelers who have returned from abroad in the recent past, close contacts of those who have tested positive and healthcare workers.
In the daily press briefing of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare too, a senior ICMR official conceded that signals of community transmission of COVID-19 in the country have been detected but refused to give specific numbers and instead blamed patients for “memory lapses”.
“There are some sporadic cases of COVID-19 where the patients do not have travel or contact history but those numbers are too few so it cannot be said that there is widespread community transmission yet,” said Dr R R Gangakhedkar, chief epidemiologist with the ICMR. “Sometimes, patients do not remember their exposure history and there have been instances where some patients even try to hide their travel history,” he added.
Infectious disease experts have been insisting for some time that given the rising number of cases and nature of the outbreak, community transmission has already happened in India. They said that the government should be more transparent and upfront during a public health emergency like the present one.
“It is not an indictment of the government that community transmission has happened as it is an inevitable progression of the outbreak and I am happy that they are admitting that now,” said Dr Shahid Jameel, senior virologist and chief executive officer of Wellcome Trust DBT India Alliance.
He added that the outbreak can be managed by aggressive cluster containment strategies by quickly identifying areas where community transmission has happened and taking appropriate measures.