Don't lower guard, COVID-19 pandemic not over yet: Centre over rise in active cases

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New Delhi, Mar 11 (PTI) Expressing concern over the rise in active COVID-19 cases in a few states, including Maharashtra, the Centre on Thursday advised people to be 'careful and watchful' and not lower guard as 'the pandemic is not yet over.' At a press conference, NITI Aayog member (Health) Dr V K Paul termed the coronavirus situation, especially in Maharashtra, 'worrisome'.

He referred to the strict lockdown imposed in Nagpur from March 15 to 21 to say, 'We are reaching a situation where these approaches (to tackle the spread of COVID-19) are being brought back.' 'We are very worried about the rise in cases across several districts in Maharashtra. We have two lessons for us. Don't take this virus for granted. It can come up unexpectedly. 'Secondly, if we have to remain free of this virus, it is very important COVID-appropriate behaviour, containment strategy, readiness from the health infrastructure point of view as well as vaccination has to be brought in to fight the pandemic,' Paul said.

He advised that in districts where COVID-19 cases are seemingly on the rise, vaccination of eligible individuals should be intensified and prioritised.

Sounding a word of caution for Delhi and its neighbourhood, Paul said the national capital is seeing a rise in positivity rate, and so is Gurgaon, Faridabad and to an extent Gautam Buddh Nagar and Ghaziabad.

'Be careful, be watchful. We still have a huge population at risk of this virus. This pandemic is not yet over. Be vigilant,' he said.

'Today, using the force of vaccination, we are in a position to give a stronger fight (to the pandemic). We plead again, do not lower your guard and please embrace the vaccines that are available,' Paul added.

Asked whether a mutant strain of the coronavirus is responsible for the rise in cases, ICMR Director General Dr Balram Bhargava said it has not been found incriminating in the surge in Maharashtra.

'At the moment, it is just related to reduced testing, tracking and tracing as well as COVID-inappropriate behaviour and large congregations,' he said.

Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said Nagpur, Pune, Thane, Mumbai, Bengaluru Urban, Ernakulam, Amravati, Jalgaon, Nashik and Aurangabad districts have the highest number of active COVID-19 cases.

Bhushan said Kerala had 64,607 active cases of COVID-19 on February 11 which has now declined to 35,715. 'We need to appreciate this,' he said.

In Uttar Pradesh, from 3,256 active cases on February 11, it has come down to 1,689 on March 11. In West Bengal, active cases have come down from 4,300 to 3,127, the Union health secretary said.

However, in the case of Maharashtra, there were 36,917 active cases on February 11 and now it has crossed a lakh. Punjab had 2,100 cases which are now touching 9,400, Bhushan said.

'We think Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana are at a tipping point. They are yet to have a surge. But looking at early signs of an increase in numbers, we have had three meetings where the states have been told to increase the number of tests, surveillance, containment areas,' he said.

According to the health ministry, a total of 2,60,73,517 vaccine doses have been given, as per the provisional report till Thursday 7 pm.

These include 72,16,759 healthcare workers (HCWs) who have taken the first dose, 40,48,754 HCWs who have taken the second dose, 71,16,849 frontline workers (FLWs) who have been given the first dose, and 6,70,813 FLWs who have received the second dose.

These also include 10,21,588 beneficiaries aged 45 years and above with specific comorbidities and 59,98,754 beneficiaries who are aged over 60 years.

In response to a question on whether the government has a timeline in mind for phase three and who gets included in that, Paul said, 'We are now focused on the relatively large group of individuals above the age of 60 as well as those aged between 45- 60 years with comorbidities. We are building a momentum to cover this significantly large group.

'We will see progress and moving forward, yes, further increase in the circle of those who are eligible will be considered,' he said.

In response to a question on the Rajasthan government recently claiming a shortage in the COVID-19 vaccine stock, Bhushan clarified that there is no shortage of COVID-19 vaccines in any state in the country so far.

The central government regularly monitors the availability of vaccine supply in all states and UTs and their consumption on a daily basis. PTI PLB/UZM TDS TDS