Health Minister Harsh Vardhan: India is in the community transmission stage
Manvender Vashist

A government-appointed committee has said that India has crossed the coronavirus peak, the number of Covid-19 cases and fatalities have both declined in the last three weeks and the spread of the pandemic has stabilised in most of the states. If the trend persists and health protocols are rigorously followed, the epidemic could be brought under control by early next year.

But there is a note of caution, too; the advent of winter and the ensuing festival season may witness heightened exposure to the infection and laxity at this point could again lead to a spike.

Relaxation in safety measures can lead to a perceptible rise. It can be as much as "up to 26 lakh cases within a month," the committee said, adding that only 30 per cent of the population has developed immunity so far.

To that extent, Niti Aayog Member V K Paul does not rule out the possibility of a second wave in the winter season.

Paul, who is also the chief of the expert panel which is coordinating efforts to tackle the pandemic in the country, said that once the vaccine is available, there will be enough resources to deliver as well as make it accessible to citizens. Paul is also heading the Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19.

According to him, India is in a somewhat better position now but the country still has a long way to go because 90 per cent of the people are still susceptible to infection. The committee underscored that protective measures must continue. "If all protocols are followed, the pandemic can be controlled by early next year with minimal active cases by February end," the panel has concluded. The total number of infections by the time the epidemic ends, could be about 105 lakh (10.5 million). The current figure is 75 lakh.

There are five States -- Kerala, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal and 3-4 Union Territories -- where there is still a rising trend, Paul said.

To a query about storage and distribution of vaccine once it is available, he said India has enough cold storage facilities and these can be readily augmented when required.

Lockdowns are undesirable and should be in place only in narrow geographical areas. The country, the panel said, should move towards full resumption of activities.

The expert committee was appointed to come out with "Indian National Supermodel" -- a mathematical model for Covid-19 -- that can shed light on the likely trajectory. Its members are from IITs and branches of the Indian Council of Medical Research, the country's nodal body in the fight against coronavirus.

GOVT ADMITS TO COMMUNITY TRANSMISSION 

Nine months after the first case of coronavirus was detected, the government on Sunday admitted for the first time that there is community transmission in many parts of the country. On various earlier occasions, the government had been coy of using the term 'community transmission'.

The admission came from none other than Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan during his ‘Sunday Samvaad’ while responding to a query on possibility of community transmission in West Bengal, in view of the State government’s claim that the infection is moving into the third stage of the pandemic. The fourth stage is an epidemic.

"In different pockets across various states, including West Bengal, community transmission is expected to occur, especially in dense areas. However, this is not happening across the country. It is limited to certain districts in limited states," Vardhan said who, thus far, has only talked about 'small community outbreaks'. (Kerala and Delhi are the other two states which have voiced fears of community transmission in the past).

In this stage, it is difficult to establish the train of transmission.

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