New Delhi: The Centre on Saturday came up with a five-point plan to tackle the surging cases of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in 12 states and Union territories, including Maharashtra, West Bengal and Delhi.
Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan chaired a high-level meeting with additional chief secretaries, principal secretaries and secretaries of 12 states and municipal commissioners and district collectors of 46 districts most affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Representatives of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Delhi, Jammu & Kashmir, Karnataka, Punjab and Bihar attended the meeting, according to a release issued by the Union ministry of health and family welfare. NITI Aayog member VK Paul was also present during the meeting.
India in March saw the steepest rise in weekly infections and fatalities since May 2020, the release read, adding that the 46 participant districts contributed 71 per cent of the cases and 69 per cent of the deaths this month. “Of total 36 districts in Maharashtra, 25 are most affected that account for 59.8% of the cases reported in the country during the past one week,” it said.
Here is the five-fold strategy laid out in the meeting:
1. The strategy includes increasing testing at an exponential rate, with a higher share of RT PCR tests–more than 70 per cent of total testing should be done via this method. “Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) to be mostly deployed as a screening tool in flushing out cluster cases from densely populated areas,” the release said.
2. Effective isolation and contact tracing of those infected was also advised. An average of 30 close contacts of those infected should be traced, tested and isolated in the first 72 hours.
3. Re-invigoration of public and private healthcare resources was stressed upon. Infrastructure should be upgraded and the healthcare workers should be ‘re-energized’ to minimize complacency and fatigue. A targeted approach to reducing the mortality rate and the number of deaths should be implemented, the release said.
4. Attention should be paid to ensuring Covid-19 appropriate behaviour at all times, especially in crowded places like markets, inter-state bus stands, schools, colleges, railway stations etc. To ensure this, public awareness campaigns with the active participation of local community leaders, religious heads and other influencers should be organized. The introduction of heavy fines in case of failure to adhere to norms should also be made, the release said.
5. There is a need for a targeted approach to vaccination in districts reporting large numbers, the release said. “States asked to focus on universalization of vaccination in the specified priority population age groups as an aid to containment strategy in districts where maximum cases are being reported. It was reiterated that there is no shortage of vaccines,” it added.
This morning over 62,000 new coronavirus cases were reported across the country in the preceding 24 hours – a 5.3 per cent increase from Friday and the biggest single-day spike in five months.
Maharashtra accounted for over half of these – nearly 37,000 cases. Other states to report high daily figures were Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Chhattisgarh. Delhi logged over 1,500 cases for a second straight day. Gujarat and Haryana both saw over 2,000 cases and Punjab over 3,000.
On Friday the Health Ministry rushed teams of medical experts to Chandigarh and Chhattisgarh to deal with increasing cases. A few days earlier teams were sent to Maharashtra and Punjab.
Concern over the surge in cases also comes as several states – particularly those seeing a spike now – are prepping for Assembly elections over the next few weeks. Bengal and Assam held the first phase of polls today, with Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry all set to vote on April 6.
Several major cities and states – Mumbai, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh among them – have also banned celebration of Holi and other forthcoming festivals in public spaces. Delhi and Mumbai have also announced random Covid testing of people in public areas.
The increase in cases also comes on the back of the discovery of a “double mutated” strain of the coronavirus, in addition to other mutated versions. The government has said it is too early to confirm if the spike is because of the mutated strains.
The vaccination drive will be extended, from April 1, to all those over 45. Until now, only healthcare workers, in addition to those over 60 and those over 45 but with co-morbidities were eligible.