Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday called for continued vigilance against the COVID-19 pandemic, while the Union health ministry said that the doubling time of cases in the country has increased "sharply" from 25.5 days in August, to almost 73 days currently.
'Doubling time' for COVID-19 is the number of days it takes for the count of cases to double.
The Centre's statement comes as India's COVID-19 tally rose to 73.07 lakh with 67,708 new cases on Thursday. Meanwhile, the national recovery rate rose to 87.35 percent with a total of 63,83,441 patients having recuperated so far.
The total number of coronavirus cases (73,07,097) includes 8,12,390 active cases, which comprises 11.11 percent of the total caseload, the health ministry said.
The countrywide toll rose to 1,11,266 with 680 new deaths in the last 24 hours. The case fatality rate has further declined to 1.52 percent, the ministry's statement said.
According to the ICMR, a cumulative total of 9,12,26,305 samples have been tested up to 14 October, with 11,36,183 samples being tested on Wednesday.
India's COVID-19 tally had crossed the 20-lakh mark on 7 August, 30 lakh on 23 August and 40 lakh on 5 September. It went past 50 lakh on 16 September, 60 lakh on 28 September, and crossed 70 lakh on 11 October.
Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said that India is expected to have a COVID-19 vaccine "in a few months" and the country should be in the process of delivering it to people in the next six months.
He made the comments at the Annual General Meeting of Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS) and St John's Ambulance, PTI reported.
"We are very much into the vaccine development process...in the next few months at the most we should have a vaccine and in the next six months we should be in the process of delivering the vaccine to the people of India," he said.
Modi asks officials to scale up testing, sero-surveys
On Thursday, Modi chaired a review meeting of the research and vaccine deployment ecosystem in India, and directed health authorities to scale up COVID-19 testing and sero-surveys. He added that the facility to get tested regularly and speedily at a low cost must be made available to all at the earliest.
Modi also underscored the need for continuous and rigorous scientific testing and validation of traditional medicine treatments.
"The prime minister reiterated the the country's resolve to provide cost-effective, easily available and scalable solutions for testing, vaccine and medication, not only for India but for the entire world," an official statement said.
At the meeting, also attended by Union health minister Harsh Vardhan, NITI Aayog Member (Health), Principal Scientific Advisor, senior scientists and other officials, Modi also appealed for a high state of preparedness against the pandemic.
Modi also appreciated efforts made by Indian vaccine developers and manufacturers to rise to the COVID-19 challenge and committed to continue government facilitation and support for all such efforts.
The prime minister said regulatory reform is a dynamic process and experts in every current and emerging domain should be used by the regulator proactively, as many new approaches have emerged.
He also took stock of the health ministry's distribution and delivery mechanism for vaccines, including mechanisms for adequate procurement, and technologies for bulk-stockpiling, filling vials for distribution and ensuring effective delivery.
According to the statement, the prime minister directed that both, sero-surveys and testing must be scaled up.
Providing details of the coronavirus situation in the country on Thursday, the health ministry said that 81,514 new recoveries were added in the last 24 hours.
"India has come a long way from registering a doubling rate of 25.5 days in mid August to now registering a doubling rate of nearly 73 days (72.8 days)," it said.
"Higher number of single-day recoveries is also reflected in the continuous increase in the national recovery rate, which has crossed 87 percent," it said.
Ten states and UTs account for 79 percent of the new recovered cases, PTI quoted the ministry as saying.
Maharashtra has contributed more than 19,000 recoveries to the single-day tally, followed by Karnataka with more than 8,000 recoveries, the ministry said.
'Young, healthy may have to wait till 2022'
Healthy people might have to wait till 2022 to get COVID-19 vaccine as health workers and those with a higher risk of contracting the infection will be prioritised, the World Health Organisation said.
Addressing an online question and answer session, WHO''s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said there would be at least one effective vaccine by 2021 but it would be available "only in limited quantities". "Most people agree, it's starting with healthcare workers, and frontline workers, but even there, you need to define which of them are at highest risk, and then the elderly, and so on," Swaminathan said on prioritising who gets the vaccine first.
"There will be a lot of guidance coming out, but I think an average person, a healthy young person might have to wait until 2022 to get a vaccine," she said. She said no one has produced these vaccines in the volumes that are going to be needed.
"So in 2021 we will have vaccines but they will be in limited quantities so we worked on a framework that how the countries will prioritise on whom to give those vaccines," she said. "People tend to think that on the first of January or the first of April, I'm going to get the vaccine, and then things will be back to normal. It's not going to work like that," Swaminathan added.
Delhi cinema halls see few footfalls, Bengaluru theatres to open tomorrow
Thursday was also the day stipulated by the MHA, in its latest 'Unlock' guidelines, for the opening of theatres and cinema halls, among other relaxations. Cinema halls will open seven months after they were shut due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
In Delhi, a majority of the cinema halls remained closed, while theatres in Bengaluru decided to postpone the reopening to Friday.
However, the few facilities that reopened in Delhi on Thursday attracted very few audience for the "first day, first show", PTI reported. Some of the theatres that reopened held special screenings for COVID-19 warriors or staff members and their families.
Sushant Singh Rajput's last theatrical release Chhichhore, Kedarnath, Tanhaji, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, Malang, War and Thappad are among films that have been re-released on the big screen since there are no new releases this week.
"We are using the latest anti-microbial treatment to sanitise the halls. It was also used in sanitising all the touch points like door handles. Sanitiser dispensers have been placed at all major points inside and at the entry points of the cinema halls. We are also encouraging contact-less digital payments," said Sandeep Singh, Cinema Manager of PVR Cinemas at 3C'S.
At Cinepolis cinema in Greater Kailash, only five tickets were sold for the 11.30 am show.
Owner of Milan Cinema Ravinder Gupta said that it was very difficult to reopen the hall.
"My single screen hall has accumulated lakhs of rupees in dues due to pending fixed charges of electricity in past eight months. Also, due to COVID-19 no new releases are there to attract the audience," he said.
Ushering in a new era of movie watching, the Union government allowed multiplexes, cinema halls and theatres to reopen from Thursday within the framework of a set of standard operating procedures (SOPs).
The MHA had left it to states to take a final call on the matter.
The SOPs mandated by the Union government include one seat distance in halls, 50 percent capacity, masks at all time, proper ventilation and air conditioner temperature settings at above 23 degrees Celsius.
Meanwhile, theatres in Bengaluru skipped Thursday and chose to wait for a day in anticipation of the weekend crowd on Friday. However, the theatre owners were sceptical about the business prospects after six months of lockdown.
"We are starting only on Friday. So far as I know, all the cinema halls are going to open on Friday as per the decision taken by the cinema hall owners and managers at a meeting on Wednesday," Prakash, the manager of Veeresh Theatre on Magadi Road told PTI.
According to him, only new movies are released on Thursday whereas on Friday or weekends, old movies are shown. "Since all are going to show old movies in the theatres, there is no point in opening theatres on Thursday," Prakash added.
Meanwhile, the Karnataka government issued SOPs on Thursday for cinema halls. It said theatres in containment zones will not open.
The theatre authorities will have to arrange hand sanitisers and thermal screening of movie-goers before letting them in. It asked people to follow the general protocol while sneezing and coughing.
The theatre owners have also been directed to maintain sufficient time gap between the screening of two movies in the same hall.
The government has also asked the theatre owners to prefer payment through netbanking for selling tickets and eatables inside the theatre.
On the other hand, in Andhra Pradesh, cinema halls and multiplex screens remained shut. Film exhibitors made it clear that they could not resume shows given the various constraints, primarily the steep maintenance costs, PTI reported.
Besides the financial burden, the other major issue that is deterring exhibitors from resuming business is the lack of new movies for screening.
The 680 new fatalities include 158 from Maharashtra, 75 from Karnataka, 64 from West Bengal, 52 from Tamil Nadu, 44 from Delhi, 33 from Chhattisgarh, 31 from Punjab and 28 from Andhra Pradesh.
A total of 1,11,266 deaths have been reported so far in the country including 40,859 from Maharashtra followed by 10,423 from Tamil Nadu, 10,198 from Karnataka, 6,507 from Uttar Pradesh, 6,319 from Andhra Pradesh, 5,898 from Delhi, 5,808 from West Bengal, 3,925 from Punjab and 3,595 from Gujarat.
With inputs from agencies