India on Monday extended the COVID-19 guidelines for surveillance, containment, and caution till 31 January, 2o21, on the backdrop of a surge in coronavirus cases around the world and the virus variant which emerged in the United Kingdom.
Health officials across the country have already begun to trace and isolate those who have recently returned from the UK and the samples of those found positive have been sent for genomic analysis to designated laboratories.
Meanwhile, a two-day mock run of the COVID-19 vaccination drive got underway in four states: Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat, and Punjab. The exercise is being conducted to check the preparedness of authorities and mechanisms such as the online Co-Win platform ahead of the vaccine rollout likely in January.
This, as the Serum Institute of India, which is manufacturing and testing Oxford/AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine in the country, said it expects to receive regulatory approval for the jab in a few days.
A majority of the stockpiled 50 million doses will be for India, Indian Express quoted SII CEO Adar Poonawalla as saying during an online interaction with reporters.
The Pune-based company had on 7 December applied to the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) seeking emergency use authorisation for the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine. The Indian arm of US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and Bharat Biotech have also sought approval for their COVID-19 vaccines.
Centre extends COVID-19 guidelines till 31 January
The Ministry of Home Affairs, while extending the coronavirus guidelines till 31 January, said there has been a continuous decline in the number of active and new COVID-19 cases in the country but there is a need to maintain surveillance, containment and caution, keeping in view the surge in the number of cases globally and a new virus strain being detected in the UK.
"Accordingly, containment zones continue to be demarcated carefully; prescribed containment measures strictly followed within these zones; COVID-appropriate behaviour promoted and strictly enforced, and the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) prescribed in respect of various permitted activities followed scrupulously," the MHA said.
The ministry said a focussed approach on surveillance and containment and a strict observance of the guidelines and SOPs issued by it and the health ministry, as envisaged in the guidelines issued last month, need to be enforced by the states and union territories.
It also asked the states and UTs to actively support central authorities in the preparations for an expected vaccination drive.
Last month, the MHA had said the states and UTs can impose local restrictions like night curfew to check the spread of COVID-19 but made it clear that they will have to consult the Centre before imposing a lockdown outside the containment zones.
"Strict vigil is also needed to be maintained to prevent any fresh surge in cases in wake of upcoming New Year celebrations and ongoing winter season which are favourable for the spread of the virus. In this regard, appropriate measures may be taken by the state and UT governments," the MHA said on Monday.
Recoveries exceed active cases by over 95 lakh, says health ministry
India's COVID-19 caseload on Monday rose to 1,02,07,871 with 20,021 infections being reported in a day, while the toll mounted to 1,47,901 with 279 new fatalities, as per the Union health ministry's morning update.
The ministry said that the number of people who have recuperated from the disease surged to 97,82,669, pushing the national recovery rate to 95.83 percent. The recoveries now exceed the active coronavirus cases in the country by 95,05,368, the ministry underlined.
Within a span of 24 hours, active cases registered a net decline of 1,389 and the country now has 2,77,301 active cases, which is 2.72 percent of the total infections recorded so far, it said in a statement.
"Daily recoveries have been outnumbering daily new cases for more than a month now. In a span of 24 hours, 20,021 people were found to be COVID positive in the country. During the same period, 21,131 new recoveries were registered ensuring a drop in the active caseload," the ministry said.
It stated that 72.99 percent of the new recovered cases are concentrated in 10 state and Union Territories. Kerala has reported the maximum of 3,463 single-day recoveries, followed by 2,124 in Maharashtra and 1,740 in West Bengal.
Also, 79.61 percent of the new cases are from 10 states and UTs, with Kerala toppin the list (4,905 fresh cases), followed by Maharashtra (3,314) and West Bengal (1,435 new cases).
It further said that ten states and UTs account for 80.29 percent of the daily deaths. Maharashtra recorded 66 fatalities, West Bengal 29 and Kerala 25 daily deaths.
The ministry highlighted that India's cases per million population, at 7,397, is among the lowest in the world. The global average is 10,149.
"Deaths per million population in India (107) are amongst the lowest in the world. The global average is 224," the health ministry said.
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), 16,88,18,054 samples have been tested up to 27 December, with 7,15,397 samples being tested on Sunday.
11 UK returnees found positive in Mumbai
Health officials continued to trace persons who have recently returned from the UK while Karnataka health minister K Sudhakar hinted at stringent action against those who had switched off their mobile phone and were not responding to requests on social media.
"I request the UK returnees to cooperate with us as responsible citizens. You have to get tested. If you don't get tested and switch off your phone, then it's a crime in true sense," Sudhakar said.
To a question whether police cases will be registered, he said, "I am compelled to say that I will discuss with the home minister and decide the future course of action."
The health minister said that 1,614 people have been tested so far and 26 people have been found COVID-19 positive till Sunday evening. Sudhakar added that all 26 have been admitted to hospitals and are under the government's supervision.
"All of them are in good health and none of them are suffering from any serious ailment. They do have mild symptoms," the minister said, adding that their samples have been sent to the designated lab at NIMHANS.
Official sources told news agency PTI that around 300 people who returned to the state from the UK were yet to be traced.
Meanwhile, the Dakshina Kannada Health department made RT-PCR test mandatory for all passengers arriving at the Mangaluru International Airport (MIA) and the New Mangalore Port (NMP) "as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus variants".
In Mumbai, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) executive health officer Dr Managala Gomare informed that 11 of about 2,200 passengers who returned to the city from the UK since 25 November have been found coronavirus positive.
Another official said samples of these 11 passengers have been sent to the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune for genome sequencing to find if they are infected with the new strain of the coronavirus.
Dr Gomare said the state government had handed over two lists of more than 2,000 passengers, who arrived from England between 25 November and 22 December, to the civic body adding that their teams were trying to contact all the passengers.
"Currently, 187 of the 590 passengers who returned from the UK last week are placed under institutional quarantine at various hotels," Dr Gomare told PTI.
UK returnees have also been found coronavirus positive in several other states including in Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
'Oxford vaccine could be approved in India next month'
In another development, the SII CEO said the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine could soon be approved in the UK and could also be approved in India by the next month. He noted that DCGI is examining the vaccine data submitted by various companies in detail and the approvals are expected to come in the next few days.
The company has already produced around 50 million dosages of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine 'Covishield' and plans to scale it up to 100 million by March next year, with the coming up of SII's third manufacturing facility, Poonawalla said.
The company, which has launched the country's first indigenously developed pneumococcal vaccine PNEUMOSIL for children, said the scaling up of the COVID-19 vaccine would also depend on the overall demand from the government.
"We have already manufactured 40-50 million dosages of the vaccine. The rollout of the vaccine is expected to be a bit slow in the initial phase due to logistics issue and is expected to pick up once things get sorted," Poonawalla told reporters.
Poonawalla further stated that India would get the majority of vaccines produced next year with some part of the production also going to other markets as part of COVAX " a global initiative to ensure rapid and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries, regardless of income level.
"Some shortage can be expected in the first six months. Things will ease out by August-September as other manufacturers will also start supplies", he added.
When asked about SII's progress on its own COVID-19 vaccine, Poonawalla said: "We expect it to launch in January 2022. We have already initiated Phase 1 clinical trials in the UK."
Union minister Harsh Vardhan, who formally launched the company's pneumococcal vaccine, said everybody in the country is looking forward to the regulatory approvals for the COVID-19 vaccine in the next few days. "We are all waiting for the approvals to come. We know that SII has developed capacities which can cater to India as well as many other countries through various global associations," Vardhan said.
On the new strain of coronavirus, the minister said the government laboratories had already initiated the genome sequencing work a few months ago.
Dry vaccine run kicks off in 4 states
At least 125 intended beneficiaries each in four states who had registered on the Co-WIN App were sent SMSes informing them about the time and place of their 'COVID-19 vaccination' under a mock-drill and preparations made to administer the shots at designated centres, reported PTI.
The two-day end-to-end dry run is being carried out in Krishna district in Andhra Pradesh, in Rajkot and Gandhinagar in Gujarat, Ludhiana and Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar (Nawanshahr) in Punjab and Sonitpur and Nalbari districts in Assam to test the laid out mechanisms for COVID-19 vaccination in the states and provide insights into any gaps to be addressed before the commencement of the actual vaccination drive.
Officials said the exercise tested the functionality of Co-WIN, which is an online platform for monitoring the delivery of COVID-19 vaccine, deployment of team members, checking cold storage, transportation arrangements and other arrangements while following all necessary protocols.
As per the checklist shared with the states by the Union health ministry, beneficiaries will be pre- identified and an SMS will be sent to them in advance with the name of the vaccinator and the time of the immunization. All beneficiaries are to be compulsory pre-registered on Co-WIN portal and a Photo ID will be required for the same.
After the vaccination, they will be under observation for the next 30 minutes to address any adverse even. A report on the dry run listing the issues involved is to be submitted by the states to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare besides the State Task Force for necessary action.
Krishna district Collector A Md Imtiyaz, who inaugurated the dry run at the urban primary health centre at Prakash Nagar in Vijayawada, said "the (dummy) vaccine was transported from the central storage facility to cold chain points at various places". The dry run was being carried out in five locations with 25 test beneficiaries (healthcare workers) for each session.
"We have recorded this in the Co-WIN App and sent SMSes to the chosen patients. We have monitored the time taken for different processes and the logistics involved. This will be used in real-time simulation," the collector told reporters.
Gujarat Immunisation Office Dr Nayan Jani told reporters that local health officials of the chosen districts and cities engaged in administrative preparations on the first day of the drive. Gandhinagar Municipal Corporation (GMC) has identified 125 beneficiaries in the city who will be covered during the mock drill, said GMC Health Officer Dr Kalpesh Goswami. He said a total of 50 health personnel will visit the identified beneficiaries at five different sites in the city.
Gujarat: Dry run for #COVID vaccine rollout held at a centre in Adalaj, Gandhinagar
"Today we mapped out everything, dummy vaccines will be administered tomorrow to 25 people,"says Superintendent of the Centre
Two-day dry run being held in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat&Punjab. pic.twitter.com/M4G6X8ftNw
" ANI (@ANI) December 28, 2020
In Ludhiana, seven centres have been set up at various hospitals. Health officials in Ludhiana and Nawanshahr said for each centre 25 persons of those registered online were selected for the dry run.
District Immunisation Officer, Nawanshahr, Dr Davinder Dhanda said that necessary infrastructure at each centre includes a waiting area, an injection room, and an observation room where the person undergoing 'dummy vaccination' on Tuesday during the dry run would be kept for half an hour has been prepared. Prior to the dry run, a special training workshop of personnel was also held.
Assam officials said five hospitals in each of Nalbari and Sonitpur districts have been chosen for the exercise. The state surveillance medical officer of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday visited Nalbari district and held discussions on the exercise with health department officials and the Deputy Commissioner Purabi Konwar.
The Centre had asked each of the four states to plan the dry run in two districts and preferably in five different session-type settings "district hospital, community health centre (CHC) or primary health care centre (PHC), urban site, private health facility and rural outreach. This will also provide hands-on experience to programme managers at various levels.
An important focus of the dry run will be on management of any possible adverse events following immunisation (AEFI) as well as on adherence and management of infection control practices at the session site to prevent disease transmission, it has said.
MoS health tests positive; Uttarakhand CM admitted to AIIMS Delhi
Also on Monday, Union Minister of State for health Ashwini Kumar Choubey said he has tested positive and was in home isolation, while Uttarakhand chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat, who tested positive for COVID-19 recently, was admitted to Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) with an infection in his lungs.
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With inputs from PTI