The Union government on Thursday said the second COVID-19 wave in India is on the "downswing" and hoped this trend will be sustained even when restrictions are systematically relaxed, but at the same time highlighted that the current number of active cases is "still very high". The Union government also stressed that any relaxation of curbs by the states and the union territories(UTs) may be considered at an appropriate time in a graded manner.
NITI Aayog member (Health) VK Paul told a news conference here that the country continues to witness the stabilisation of the second wave in most parts, both by the number of cases and positivity rate, and despite a sustained and high overall testing coverage which is reassuring. "We are achieving this in the face of very significant restrictions in most states in addition to other tools and operations, including testing and COVID appropriate behaviour and vaccination efforts. Nonetheless, it is reassuring that we are on the downswing of the second wave and we do hope and believe that it will be sustained even when restrictions are gently, systematically and cautiously opened up," he said.
Separately, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs(MHA) while directing the states and union territories to continue the ongoing COVID-19 guidelines till June 30 asked them to go for intensive and local containment measures in districts with a high number of cases to check the spread of the disease. In a fresh order, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said strict implementation of containment and other measures has led to a declining trend in the number of new and active cases, across states and union territories, barring some areas in the southern and northeastern regions.
"I would like to highlight that in spite of the declining trend, the number of active cases presently is still very high. It is, therefore, important that containment measures may continue to be implemented strictly. Any relaxation by states and UTs, may be considered at an appropriate time, in a graded manner, after assessing the local situation, requirements and resources," Bhalla said in his order issued to chief secretaries of the states and union territories.
According to the Union Health Ministry data on Thursday morning, the number of active cases stood at 24,19,907, which is 8.84% of the total infections. The country's tally of COVID-19 infections climbed to 2.73 crore as 2.11 lakh more people tested positive for the disease in a day, while the recovery rate went up to 90%, according to the ministry data. The death toll due to the disease rose to 3.15 lakh with 3,847 fresh fatalities being reported in a span of 24 hours, the data updated at 8 am showed. Also, 21.57 lakh COVID-19 tests were conducted on Wednesday, taking the total number of such tests done so far in the country to 33.69 crore.
The daily positivity was recorded at 9.79%. It has been less than 10% for three consecutive days now, the ministry said. The weekly positivity rate has also declined and now stands at 10.93%, it added. The number of people who have recuperated from the disease surged to 2,46,33,951, while the case fatality rate stands at 1.15%, the ministry stated.
Lav Agarwal, a joint secretary in the Health ministry, said a steady decline in new COVID-19 cases has been recorded in India for the last 20 days, with 24 states witnessing a dip in active cases since the last week. He also said that while COVID-19 testing has increased manifold, a steady decline in weekly COVID-19 positivity rate has been seen since the last three weeks.
On related issues, Paul said the pace of vaccination against COVID should pick up in July. "We have a total of 51.6 crore doses, a large proportion of it is available and has to be used in an efficient manner even as we build our efforts to build our stockpile in the time to come. I would like to state that Bharat Biotech which started with 90 lakh capacity is ramping up and it is well within our expectation that it can reach ten times the production level to 10 crore per month in the next few months, " he said. Covaxin is produced by Bharat Biotech.
Paul said similarly the Serum Institute of India(SII) is also ramping up vaccine production from 6.5 crore per month to 11 crore or even more in the months to come. SII produces Covishield. "We are also reaching out to international manufacturers, in particular Pfizer, for making vaccines available now that they have shown interest and indicated the possibility of the vaccine being spared for India," he said.
The official said the government has been making significant efforts in reaching out to foreign manufacturers and also making intense, relentless efforts to increase the production and supply of make in India' vaccines. He also noted that any significant adverse effect is unlikely if the second dose of a different COVID-19 vaccine is administered, but reaching a firm opinion on this will need more scrutiny and understanding.
He, however, clarified that both doses administered to an individual should be of the same vaccine as per the existing protocol. Paul said in a vaccination campaign where we want to immunise everyone against a particular disease, take two doses. If there is a need for a booster dose it will be told. There are studies that are going on...Covaxin trial is going on... whether it should be taken after six months or not.
On Pfizer seeking indemnity, Paul said, "Yes we are engaged with Pfizer and they have indicated the availability of a certain amount of vaccine in the coming months, possibly starting in July and we are looking at what their expectations from the government are and they are looking at what our expectations from them are."
"They have requested indemnity to all the nations including the country of origin. We are examining this request and will take a decision in the larger interest of people and on merits. This is under discussion and there is no decision as of now," Paul said.
In his communication to the states and the UTs, Bhalla said the guidelines issued on April 29 for the month of May will continue till June 30. According to the guidelines, the home ministry told the states to take necessary action to ensure sufficient oxygen-supported beds, ICU beds, ventilators, ambulances including creation of makeshift hospitals, oxygen, as needed, besides sufficient quarantine facilities. The home ministry, however, did not mention anything about the imposition of lockdown anywhere in the country in the fresh guidelines issued in view of the pandemic.