India records highest daily COVID figure of 2021; govt says don't lower guard, pandemic not yet over

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New Delhi, Mar 11 (PTI) India recorded its highest daily figure of COVID-19 cases this year with 22,854 new infections, prompting the Centre to ask people not to lower guard as the pandemic was not yet over and also embrace vaccines.

The total number of cases went up to 1,12,85,561 while the death toll increased to 1,58,189 with 126 daily new fatalities, according to Union health ministry data updated on Thursday.

The number of people who have recuperated from the disease surged to 1,09,38,146 which translates to a national COVID-19 recovery rate of 96.92 per cent, while the case fatality rate stands at 1.40 per cent, the data stated.

Expressing concern over the rise in active cases in a few states, NITI Aayog member (Health) V K Paul termed as 'worrisome' the situation, especially in Maharashtra, where strict lockdown measures will be enforced in some parts.

'Don't take this virus for granted. It can come up unexpectedly. If we have to remain free of this virus, COVID-appropriate behaviour, containment strategy as well as vaccination has to be brought in,' he 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, 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.

The health ministry has asserted that there is no shortage of COVID-19 vaccine doses in any state in the country so far.

Among those who received vaccination on Thursday was Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 95-year-old mother Hiraba.

'Happy to share that my mother has taken the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine today. I urge everyone to help and motivate people around you who are eligible to take the vaccine,' Modi tweeted.

In Delhi, ICMR Director General Dr Balram Bhargava, when asked at a press conference whether a mutant strain of the coronavirus is responsible for the rise in cases, 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.

Amid increase in cases, the administration in the hill district of Nilgiris, home to popular tourist destinations, warned of six months imprisonment to those found without face masks in public places.

Delhi recorded 409 new COVID-19 cases, the highest single-day rise in nearly two months, while the positivity rate rose to 0.59 per cent, according to health department data.

The death toll climbed to 10,934 with three more fatalities, the latest bulletin issued by the Delhi Health Department stated.

In Maharashtra, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said strict lockdown measures will be enforced in some parts of the state to contain the spread of COVID-19. Maharashtra on Wednesday recorded 13,659 new coronavirus cases, the highest one-day spike this year, which took the state's caseload to 22,52,057. The state has so far reported 52,610 deaths due to the disease.

Sixty-year-old Thackeray received the first dose of vaccine at the government-run J J Hospital in Mumbai.

Nagpur, which has been reporting a spike in daily cases since the last month, will see a lockdown from March 15 to 21, district guardian minister Nitin Raut announced.

During the lockdown, private offices will remain closed, while government offices will work at 25 per cent capacity, he said, adding shops of essential commodities will remain open while liquor will be sold online only in this period.

Meanwhile, the Maharashtra Public Service Commission again postponed a preliminary examination for government jobs scheduled for March 14 in view of the rising COVID-19 cases. The decision came in for flak from leaders of the ruling coalition members Congress and NCP as well as opposition BJP.

Senior Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan questioned the wisdom of the decision saying if the government can permit weddings, hold budget session and conduct exams for the health department, then it is wrong to cancel the MPSC examination.

BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis demanded that the decision be reversed.

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 case of Maharasthra, there were 36,917 active cases on February 11 and now it has crossed a lakh. Punjab had 2,100 cases which is 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 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.

Bhushan informed the press conference that 2,56,90,545 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered till Thursday 1 pm, which includes 67,86,086 for the elderly and those aged 45-60 with comorbidities. PTI TEAM ZMN