Increase testing, Centre to 12 states, UTs reporting surge in cases as India records sharpest weekly rise since May last

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New Delhi, Mar 27 (PTI) As India recorded the sharpest rise in weekly COVID-19 cases since May last, the Centre on Saturday came out with a five-point containment strategy for the 12 states and union territories reporting a surge that included exponential increase in testing while the worst affected Maharashtra announced a complete ban on all types of gatherings.

The magnitude of the rise in coronavirus cases could be also gauged from the fact that India registered 62,258 new infections in a day, the highest single day rise so far this year, and also the highest since October 16 last when 63,371 new cases were reported in a span of 24 hours.

Besides the 'strong advice' given by the Centre for a significant increase of testing in all districts in line with their positivity rate, the strategy to be adopted included effective isolation and contact tracing of those infected, Re-invigoration of Public and Private Healthcare resources, ensuring of COVID Appropriate Behaviour and targeted approach to vaccination in districts reporting large numbers.

The strategy was finalised after a high-level review meeting chaired by Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan with top officials of the 12 states and the UTs and Municipal Commissioners and District Collectors of the 46 districts that are the most affected by rising COVID cases and rising mortality, according to a statement by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

The states and UTs are Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Punjab and Bihar.

'Through a detailed presentation, the states were informed that the country has seen the sharpest rise in weekly COVID cases and fatalities since May 2020 (7.7% and 5.1% respectively),' the statement said.

The focus was on 46 districts that have contributed 71 per cent of the cases and 69 per cent of the deaths this month.

Of the total 36 districts in Maharashtra, 25 are most affected that account for 59.8 per cent of the cases reported in the country during the past one week, the statement said.

A granular analysis of affected districts in these states and UTs along with some key statistics was presented at the meeting, it added.

Almost 90 per cent of the COVID deaths continue to be in the category of those aged above 45 years. Findings of studies were highlighted which depicted that while 90 per cent people are aware, only 44 per cent actually wear face masks, the statement said.

'One infected person could spread COVID-19 to an average of 406 other individuals in a 30-day window without restrictions which could be reduced to just 15 by decreasing physical exposure to 50 per cent and to a further 2.5 (average) by decreasing physical exposure to 75 per cent.' It was also highlighted that the concept of 'second wave' reflected more the laxity among everyone regarding COVID-appropriate behaviour and virus containment and management strategy at the ground level.

Hence, stringent action, including effective containment and contact tracing, for at least 14 days in the 46 districts was strongly recommended for breaking the chain of transmission and 'not frittering away' the gains of collaborative efforts of last year, the Centre told the states.

Six states -- Maharashtra, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh -- continue to report a high surge in daily COVID cases and account for 79.57 per cent of the new infections reported in a span of 24 hours, the Health Ministry said.

India's total active cases have reached 4,52,647 and currently comprise 3.8 per cent of the country's total infections, it added.

The country saw 62,258 new cases being registered in the last 24 hours, the highest single day rise so far this year, according to the ministry. The nationwide tally stood at 1,19,08,910.

Maharashtra has reported the highest daily new cases at 36,902 followed by Punjab (3,122) and Chhattisgarh (2,665), the ministry said. Maharashtra also reported 166 COVID-19 deaths in 24 hours, highest since last October, a state health official said in Mumbai.

Struggling to contain the fresh surge, the Maharashtra government said that holding of social, cultural, political and religious gatherings in the state is being banned completely.

Auditoriums or drama theatres should not allow their property to be used for such events, said an official order issued in Mumbai.

The government also ordered that restaurants, gardens and malls will remain shut between 8 pm and 7 am beginning Saturday night. People will also not be allowed to visit beaches during 8 pm to 7 am, the order said.

Drama theatres will also remain shut from Saturday night.

However, the government has exempted delivery of food in night hours in its new set of guidelines.

'Gatherings of more than five people will not be allowed from 8 pm to 7 am effective from midnight on 27th March. Violation will attract penalty of Rs 1,000 per person on offenders.

'All public places including gardens and beaches will remain closed during the same period and violators will be fined with Rs 1,000 per person. Not wearing of face mask will attract Rs 500 fine while the same is Rs 1,000 for public spitting,' the order said.

In Delhi, the Delhi Disaster Management Authority(DDMA) ordered that not more than 200 guests will be allowed in open-air venues and there will be a cap of 100 in weddings at banquet halls following a rise in COVID cases.

Delhi reported over 1,500 cases for the third day on the trot on Saturday, while 10 more people, highest in around two-and-a-half months, succumbed to the disease, the health department said.

The national capital has registered 1,558 new infections which pushed the tally to 6,55,834, while over 6.38 lakh patients have recovered from the virus.

This is the highest number of cases since December 15 last year when 1,617 people tested positive for the virus, according to official data.

The Gujarat government also announced that a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test report will be mandatory for those arriving from other states.

Earlier, the state government had made negative test report must only for those coming from neighbouring Maharashtra.

The new wave of coronavirus in Gujarat has also hit two of the country's premier educational institutions with IIM-Ahmedabad and IIT-Gandhinagar reporting active cases in double digits.

The Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad currently has 40 active cases, while Indian Institute of Technology-Gandhinagar has 25 active cases, official sources said.

'The IIM-A campus was almost COVID-free with only isolated cases till March 12. Subsequently there was a rise in infections, mostly among students. Many of these cases are asymptomatic,' the institute said in a statement.PTI UZM PLB ND PD ARU BUN GVS GSN GSN GSN