The Union health ministry on Friday said that India had reached a "significant milestone" as the tally of active COVID-19 cases in the country fell below seven lakh for the first time in two months. Meanwhile, the total caseload rose to 77,61,312 with an addition of 54,366 new cases in 24 hours.
The number of new cases reported in the country remained below 60,000 for the fifth consecutive day, the ministry said. On the other hand, the toll rose to 1,17,306 with 690 new casualties reported. The case fatality rate was recorded at 1.51 percent
Providing information on the statistics of active cases, the ministry's data showed that there are 6,95,509 active cases currently, which comprises 8.96 percent of the total caseload.
The ministry also said that a total of 69,48,497 people have recuperated from the disease so far, pushing the national recovery rate to 89.53 percent.
In a related but separate development, the Centre gave details of its plans for COVD vaccine distribution after yesterday's controversy over BJP making access to free vaccine a poll promise.
The Centre said that India already has a strong immunisation programme with dedicated resources and distribution channels in place. It would tap into the same channels to ensure even and timely distribution of the crucial vaccine to the last man.
Apart from this, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan repeated the word of caution, reminding the populace that the next three months are going to be crucial in the fight against coronavirus. The upcoming festive season is likely to see a huge movement of people outdoors after an extended period of lockdown, which was eased in a phased manner. Furthermore, the winter season is also expected to cause a rise in cases as all coronaviru more commonly spread during this time. The winter months also see a spike in air pollution in all major cities, including National Capital, which generally causes more respiratory system diseases among people.
Centre says vaccine will be distributed under special immunisation programme
Amid the controversy over BJP's election manifesto promising free coronavirus vaccine for everyone in Bihar, Union government officials were quoted by PTI as saying that the vaccine, once ready, "will be distributed under a special COVID-19 immunisation programme".
The Centre will procure it and make it available free-of-cost to all priority groups, the report said, adding that the government has started the process of identifying around 30 crore priority beneficiaries, with the help of state and Union Territory governments, who will be given vaccine in the initial phase.
States have been asked not to chart separate pathways of procurement, the officials said.
The existing digital platform and processes used for the 'Universal Immunisation Programme' are being enhanced to track COVID-19 vaccine administration and movement, from procurement to storage and finally, to distribution to individual beneficiaries, as and when the vaccine becomes available.
Also, online training modules are being developed for vaccinators.
The report added that the Centre has chalked out four categories which include " around one crore healthcare professionals, including doctors, MBBS students and nurses; around two crore frontline workers, including municipal corporation workers, ASHA workers and police personnel; and about 26 crore people aged above 50 and those below 50 with co-morbidities.
"A final decision is yet to be taken in this regard," an official said.
Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday released the BJP's manifesto for the Bihar assembly polls which promised free COVID-19 vaccine once it has been cleared by the ICMR.
Presently, under the UIP, children, adolescents and pregnant women are vaccinated against vaccine-preventable diseases free of cost by the state.
India's robust immunisation programme will help in distribution of COVID vaccine: health minister
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has said that the Centre estimates to receive and utilise 40-50 crore doses of COVID-19 vaccine covering around 25 crore people by July next year.
Vardhan had said the government is working round-the-clock to ensure that there is a fair and equitable distribution of vaccines, once they are ready.
"The biggest benefit that India has is that it has a robust immunisation programme in place and it is implementing the largest immunisation programme of the world, with nearly 27 million newborns targeted for immunisation annually," the minister said.
"We have an established infrastructure for supply, storage and delivery of vaccines to the last mile, under our Universal Immunisation Programme, where we are administering around 600 million doses to children every year," he said.
"The strength of these experiences in the vaccination landscape, our best practices and the robustness of our health delivery System will be leveraged and augmented using a strong IT backbone to ensure that this humongous national mission of vaccinating the identified priority groups with COVID-19 vaccine is achieved in a timely manner. The Indian government will leverage the integrated IT platform eVin for managing vaccine distribution," Vardhan said.
The National Expert Committee on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 has already mapped the existing cold chain being utilised under the government's immunisation program and has also made a projection of the additionality that will be required.
Harsh Vardhan says next 3 months 'decisive'
Vardhan on Friday said the next three months are going to be decisive in determining the coronavirus situation in the country, as he urged people to follow COVID appropriate behaviour in the coming festival season and winter months.
He also highlighted that the doubling rate has increased to 97.2 days.
Vardhan, who reviewed the COVID-19 preparedness with the health and medical education ministers and other senior officials of Uttar Pradesh, said in the last three months, the country has seen significant improvement in the COVID parameters.
"From recording over 95,000 COVID-19 cases in a day, they have been substantially reduced to less than 55,000 per day. The recovery rate of India is nearing 90 percent. The Case Fatality Rate (CFR) is also declining. CFR stands at 1.51 percent and is moving towards the target of being less than 1 per cent," he was quoted as saying in the statement.
"But the next three months are going to be decisive in determining the situation of COVID-19 in the country. If we take adequate precaution and follow COVID appropriate behaviour in the coming festival and winter season, we will be in a better position to fight coronavirus," Vardhan said.
RBI board holds review meet to take stock of economic situation, other challenges
Amid the uncertainties created by the coronavirus pandemic, the Reserve Bank's central board held a meeting to discuss, among other things, the economic situation and other challenges.
The meeting, which was held through video conferencing, also deliberated on the issues concerning financial stability in the present context.
"The board reviewed the current economic situation, continued global and domestic challenges and various areas of operations of the Reserve Bank. The board also discussed the working of sub-committees of the central board and the local boards and deliberated on the aspects related to financial stability in the present milieu," the RBI said in a release.
Apart from RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das and other central bank functionaries, the meeting was attended by N Chandrasekaran, Ashok Gulati, Manish Sabharwal, Prasanna Kumar Mohanty, Dilip S Shanghvi, Satish K Marathe, S Gurumurthy, Revathy Iyer and Sachin Chaturvedi.
The finance ministry was represented by Tarun Bajaj, Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs and Debasish Panda, Secretary, Department of Financial Services. It was the 585th meeting of the RBI Central Board.
COVID-19 dominates final Trump-Biden presidential debate
US president Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden clashed over COVID-19 " among other issues like immigration, race relations and climate change " during their final debate, just ahead of the 3 November presidential election, presenting Americans with sharply divergent views of where they would lead them over the next four years.
The two leaders traded barbs during the debate that lasted just over 90 minutes, attacking each other's positions on controlling the raging coronavirus pandemic and curbing the country's world-leading death toll of over 2,23,000.
The prime-time debate in Nashville, Tennessee, was a less acrimonious and more substantive affair than their previous showdown on 29 September, which devolved into insults and name-calling. This prompted the debate organisers to put in place muted microphones during the candidates' opening statements on each topic to minimise disruption.
The coronavirus dominated the opening minutes of the Trump-Biden face-off with President Trump terming the contagion a worldwide problem .
"This has been a worldwide problem, but I've been congratulated by many countries on what we've been able to do, he said.
Trump once again blamed China for the virus and and said Beijing failed to prevent the disease from becoming a pandemic.
"We have a vaccine that's coming, it's ready. It's going to be announced within weeks and it's going to be delivered," Trump said.
The president said his generals have lined up for the fast distribution of the vaccine, as he expects to have 100 million vials.
Biden challenged Trump and alleged that his policies have resulted in a large number of deaths in the country.
"We are about to go into a dark winter. A dark winter and he has no clear plan and there's no prospect that there's going to be a vaccine available for the majority of the American people before the middle of next year, he said.
Millions in UK enter tougher COVID-19 lockdown
Millions of people across the UK enter tougher lockdown from Friday, including a complete firebreak shutdown in Wales, as the country battles to get a grip on a resurgence of COVID-19.
Greater Manchester's population of 2.8 million joined Liverpool City Region and Lancashire in England's highest tier of restrictions at midnight, which involves a near-complete business shutdown.
South Yorkshire will move into the same Tier 3 restrictions from midnight on Saturday, bringing the total number of people living under England's tightest rules to more than seven million.
Tier 3 of "very high" COVID-19 alert level means people cannot mix with other households and pubs and bars will be closed unless they are serving substantial meals. Some areas in the top tier have also gone further, closing businesses such as bingo halls, casinos, betting shops and soft play centres.
Households are banned from mixing at all, even outdoors in private gardens or anywhere inside, and people are advised against travelling into or out of the area.
Under the tier system backed up by fines for serious breaches laid out by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week, Tier 1 is set at a medium COVID-19 alert with some meeting between households permitted within the rule of six on gathering numbers and a high alert of stricter movement and gathering rules are set for Tier 2 the category in which London was added to last weekend.
The 690 new fatalities in the last 24 hours include 198 from Maharashtra, 74 from Karnataka, 64 from West Bengal, 52 from Chhattisgarh, 45 from Tamil Nadu and 35 each from Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.
The total 1,17,306 deaths reported so far in the country include 42,831 from Maharashtra, 10,825 from Tamil Nadu, 10,770 from Karnataka, 6,790 from Uttar Pradesh, 6,524 from Andhra Pradesh, 6,308 from West Bengal, 6,163 from Delhi, 4,072 from Punjab and 3,667 from Gujarat.
With inputs from agencies