'Matter of grave concern': Centre on India's COVID-19 situation as doubling rate triples in Maharashtra
Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said the Centre held a meeting with health officials of Maharashtra and Punjab on Saturday to talk about refinement in their strategy to tackle the surge.
NEW DELHI: The surge of COVID-19 cases in Maharashtra and Punjab is of "grave concern", the Union health ministry said on Wednesday.
Addressing a press conference, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said the Centre held a meeting with health officials of Maharashtra and Punjab on Saturday to talk about refinement in their strategy to tackle the surge.
"Two states are of grave concern which showed recent surge in cases. First is Maharashtra and second is Punjab. Maharashtra reported over 28,000 cases. The top five districts are Pune, Nagpur, Mumbai, Thane and Nashik," he said.
Punjab is a cause for worry because the number of new cases are disproportionately high compared to its population, he said.
Jalandhar, SAS Nagar, Ludhiana, Patiala and Hoshiarpur in Punjab are reporting high number of cases, Bhushan added.
Bhushan said there are other states too which are a matter of serious concern.
They are Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh and Chandigarh which have recorded a surge in COVID-19 cases.
In Gujarat, about 1,700 cases are being reported everyday while in Madhya Pradesh, the daily figure is about 1,500.
Surat, Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Rajkot and Bhavnagar in Gujarat are recording high number of cases while Bhopal, Indore, Jabalpur, Ujjain and Betul in Madhya Pradesh are recording high number of cases.
NITI Aayog member (health) V K Paul expressed concern about the pandemic with cases increasing in some states including Maharashtra, Punjab and Gujarat.
"We have to battle this second peak", he said and stressed on following the COVID appropriate behaviour and using vaccination as a tool to curb transmission.
"Mask is as effective as the best vaccine in the world, why are we getting lax. Please get yourself tested, where tests are happening less, positivity is increasing. A large proportion of the population is susceptible," Paul said.
Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have also recorded recent surges.
Karnataka is reporting about 2,000 cases daily while the number is about 1,400 in Tamil Nadu.
Bhushan said there are roughly three per cent active cases of COVID-19 and these are concentrated mainly in 10 districts -- nine in Maharashtra and one in Karnataka.
Nine out of the top 10 districts with the highest active number of COVID-19 cases - Pune, Nagpur, Mumbai, Thane, Nashik, Aurangabad, Nanded, Jalgaon and Akola - are in Maharashtra and one, Bengaluru Urban, is in Karnataka, he said.
According to the health ministry data of Wednesday, Maharashtra has reported the highest daily new cases at 28,699.
It is followed by Punjab with 2,254 and Karnataka with 2,010 cases.
People aged 45 and above account for about 88 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths in India making them the most vulnerable section, the Union Health Ministry said on Wednesday, a day after the government opened up vaccinations for all those in the age bracket from April 1.
Addressing a press conference, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said the case fatality rate in the age group is 2.85 per cent as against an overall national average of 1.37 per cent.
"About 88 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths in the country are taking place in the age group of 45 years and above, making them the most vulnerable group that needs to be protected," he said, adding that this is the reason behind allowing their vaccination from April 1.
Speaking about the new SARS-CoV-2 variants, National Centre for Disease Control Director S K Singh said 771 variants of concern (VOCs) have been detected in 18 states and union territories, which include 736 samples that were positive for viruses of the UK (B.1.1.7) lineage.
Till now, no linkage has been established to show that the surge being witnessed in some states is direct because of only virus mutants.
There are various reasons behind a surge.
States having a larger pool of susceptible population are prone to witness a rise in cases.
Whenever the susceptible population will lower their guard and not follow COVID-19-appropriate behaviour, they will get the infection, be it the normal virus or the mutants, he said.
There are only three variants of concern, detected in the UK, South Africa and Brazil.
In addition to these, some other variants of interest have also been found in some states, including Maharashtra and Delhi, which need to be further analysed and investigated, he added.
Bhushan said there are roughly three per cent active cases of COVID-19 and these active cases are concentrated mainly in 10 districts -- nine in Maharashtra and one in Karnataka.
These districts are Pune, Nagpur, Mumbai, Thane, Nashik, Aurangabad, Nanded, Jalgaon, Akola, and Bengaluru Urban.
"Two states are of grave concern which showed recent surge in cases. First is Maharashtra which reported over 28,000 cases. The top five districts are Pune, Nagpur, Mumbai, Thane and Nashik," he said.
Bhushan said Punjab is another state of grave concern because, considering its population, a very high number of cases are being reported there.
Jalandhar, SAS Nagar, Ludhiana, Patiala and Hoshiarpur in Punjab are reporting high number of cases, he said.
"We had a meeting with health officials of Maharashtra and Punjab to talk about refinement in their strategy to tackle the surge," he said.
Bhushan said there are a few other states too which are a matter of serious concern.
These are Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh and Chandigarh which have recorded a surge in COVID-19 cases.
In Gujarat, about 1,700 cases are being reported everyday, while about 1,500 cases are being reported in Madhya Pradesh daily.
Surat, Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Rajkot and Bhavnagar in Gujarat are recording a high number of cases, while Bhopal, Indore, Jabalpur, Ujjain and Betul in Madhya Pradesh are witnessing a surge in infections.
Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have also recorded recent surges.
Karnataka is reporting about 2,000 cases per day, while Tamil Nadu is recording about 1,400 new daily cases.
On vaccination, Bhushan said 5,08,41,286 coronavirus vaccine doses were administered till 10 am Wednesday, which include 2,64,52,366 doses given to those aged above 60 and those aged 45-60 years with comorbidities.
He said 20 states and union territories, including Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Bihar, have administered the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine to more than 92 per cent of healthcare workers, and 14 states and UTs have given the second dose to more than 85 per cent of eligible healthcare workers.
Bhushan said Telangana, Chandigarh, Nagaland and Punjab have low vaccination coverage of healthcare workers.
"These states have been asked to follow suit of other states that have high vaccination coverage," he said.
Bhushan said Telangana, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram and Chandigarh have low vaccination coverage of frontline workers.
The government had announced on Tuesday that from April 1, all people above 45 years of age will be eligible to get COVID-19 vaccines.
The countrywide vaccination drive was rolled out on January 16 with healthcare workers getting inoculated and vaccination of the frontline workers started from February 2.
The next phase of COVID-19 vaccination commenced on March 1 for those who are over 60 years of age and for people aged 45 and above with specified co-morbid conditions.
On the recommendation to give the second dose of Covishield after a gap of 4-8 weeks from the first dose, Bhushan said the protection against the virus is enhanced if the second dose is administered between six and eight weeks, but not later than the stipulated period of eight weeks.
He further said the revised time gap between two doses is applicable only to Covishield, and not to Covaxin.
The rate of increase in coronavirus cases in Maharashtra between February 14 to March 23 was three times that recorded in the previous four months, data shows.
After a steady decline since October, the new cases surged noticeably since February 14.
On March 20, Maharashtra reported over 30,000 new cases, the highest since the pandemic began.
Between February 14 and March 23, in the span of 37 days, 4,68,748 cases were added in the state, taking the caseload to 25,33,026.
On average, 12,668 cases were added daily.
In preceding months, it had taken 119 days for the addition of over 4.68 lakh cases.
Between October 18, 2020 and February 13, as many as 4,68,897 new cases were reported, at average daily rate of 3,940.
Maharashtra had gram panchayat elections in some 12,000 villages in January, followed by big political gatherings.
Some health experts blamed the later surge in cases on these events.
"People continued flouting safety norms and during the same period the virus started mutating and became more infectious," a senior health official said.
"The new strain is more infectious. We have to find out more about the strain and how it responds to the ongoing vaccination drive," he added.
The average daily fatality count, however, is lower since February 14 compared to the earlier period.
The COVID-19 death toll increased by 9,414 between October 18 to February 13, at a daily average of 79.
It went up by 2,060 up to March 23, with a daily average of 55, the data shows.
Addressing a press conference in Delhi, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said on Wednesday the situation in Maharashtra and Punjab was of "grave concern".
"Top five districts" in Maharashtra where high number of cases are being reported are Pune, Nagpur, Mumbai, Thane and Nashik, he said.