India on Tuesday recorded the highest one-day spike of COVID-19 cases at 1.07 lakh even as the Centre cautioned that the next four weeks are "very very critical" and sought people's participation to control the second wave of the pandemic.
As the Union government warned that COVID-19 is spreading faster in the country than during the last year, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said it seems that people have given 'Tilanjali' (abandon) to measures like wearing masks to combat the disease.
Facing growing calls for expanding the COVID vaccination drive to cover all age groups, the Centre also appeared to be veering towards the view to make those above 18 years of age eligible for the jabs. At present, only those above 45 years are allowed to take the vaccine.
Delhi also joined a growing number of states to impose night curfew in view of the surge in coronavirus infections as the national capital recorded 5,100 fresh cases on Tuesday, the highest this year. The curfew from 10 pm to 5 am will be in force with immediate effect till April 30.
According to the daily numbers announced by various states and union territories, the nationwide tally of new cases reported on Tuesday crossed the 1.07 lakh mark, the highest ever in India since the first case of the deadly virus was reported on January 30, 2020.
The number of cases breached the 1-lakh mark for the second time in three days. India on Sunday registered an all-time high of 1,03,558 cases in a span of 24 hours.
NITI Aayog Member (Health) Dr VK Paul said the pandemic situation in the country has worsened with a sharp rise in cases, and a large part of the population is still susceptible to the virus. "People's participation is vital to control the second wave. The next four weeks are going to very critical. The entire country has to come together and make efforts to fight the pandemic."
"The intensity of the pandemic has increased and it is spreading faster than last time. In some states, it (the condition) is worse than others but the upswing (in cases) can be observed across the country," he said.
The tools to fight the pandemic remain the same. COVID-appropriate behaviour, containment measures, testing have to be implemented more efficiently, medical infrastructure has to be ramped up and vaccination drive intensified, he underlined.
COVID-appropriate behaviour like wearing masks, staying away from crowds have to be followed in a campaign mode, Paul reminded people.
He said the number of coronavirus cases is increasing and along with that mortality is also on the rise. "Still, in terms of the population size and in terms of deaths per million we are doing well and the pandemic is in control."
Minister Vardhan highlighted that one of the major reasons for the surge in cases in almost all parts of the country, more specifically in 11 states, was people becoming lax towards following COVID appropriate behaviour and urged them take up mass awareness campaigns to re-instill the importance of such measures among the population.
It seems that people have given 'Tilanjali' (abandon) to measures and steps that can protect them from COVID such as mask wearing, avoiding gatherings and maintaining physical distancing, which I have been calling as Social Vaccine and are as important as the vaccines that we now have," he was quoted as saying in an official statement released after he chaired a comprehensive and detailed review of the COVID cases, vaccination status and challenges being faced by the 11 states.
The states are Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and Rajasthan.
A total of 96,982 cases have been reported in a span of 24 hours, while the death toll increased to 1,65,547 with 446 daily new fatalities, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated at 8 am.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in an advisory urged private TV channels to disseminate messages for COVID-appropriate behaviour and vaccination of the eligible age group to create greater awareness among people.
The Union government while responding to growing demands that the age limit for COVID-19 vaccination be relaxed in view of the spike in cases, said the aim is to protect those who are most vulnerable, and not to "administer the vaccine to those who want it but to those who need it".
Detailing the COVID-19 situation in India, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said Chhattisgarh's Durg is among top 10 districts with high active COVID cases while seven are in Maharashtra, one in Karnataka. Delhi, counted as one district, is also in the list, he said.
The 10 districts with the highest number of new cases are Pune, Mumbai, Thane, Nagpur, Nashik, Bengaluru Urban, Aurangabad, Ahmednagar, Delhi and Durg, he added.
Bhushan further said that Maharashtra, Punjab and Chhattisgarh still remain the states of "maximum concern".
Maharashtra because of its share in total number of cases as well as in total deaths, and Punjab and Chhattisgarh because of their share in the number of deaths. Maharashtra on Tuesday recorded 55,469 new cases, a state health official said in Mumbai.
Given their population, the death numbers being reported by Punjab and Chhatisgarh are a cause of extreme concern, he said.
Bhushan said India's COVID-19 cases per million in India are still among the lowest. India has 9,192 cases per million while countries like the US has 91,757, France 71,718, and the UK 64,216.
"Even in deaths per million we remain one among the lowest in the world. India has 120 deaths per million while deaths per million of the world is 365," he said.
The Union Health Ministry said more than 43 lakh COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered in a span of 24 hours on April 5, the highest single-day coverage till now, taking the total doses given in the country so far to 8,31,10,926.
"This is the highest single day vaccination coverage in the country so far," the ministry said.
"Our situation in this context is pretty good. If we look that which country ramped up at what pace, we will see that India has done the fastest ramp up," Bhushan said.
Bhushan said that even Western countries have conducted the vaccination drive in phases.
"The basic aim is to reduce death through vaccination. The other aim is to protect your healthcare system. If healthcare workers, doctors, nurses, paramedics and others fall sick, who will work in hospitals? So the aim, for any country, is to protect those who are the most vulnerable. The aim is never to administer the vaccine to those who want it but to those who need it," he added.
Paul said the narrative has to be seen in a scientific way.
So far, nobody doing vaccine research has shown that if given on this scale, it leads to herd immunity, he said, adding that it is not yet scientifically proven.
He said that priority groups have been decided on the basis of who are vulnerable to mortality.
"Because history will only remember how many deaths have taken place. Globally, vaccine is finite," Dr Paul underlined.
The Indian Medical Association(IMA) has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggesting that vaccination be allowed for all people above the age of 18 years.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Maharashtra counterpart Uddhav Thackeray on Monday also requested Modi to relax the age limit for the vaccination. Karnataka, Punjab and Rajasthan had also made similar suggestions in the recent weeks.