Mask, Test & Vaccinate: Centre's Covid Advisory as It Expresses 'Grave Concern' Over Maharashtra, Punjab

·3-min read

The Union government said on Wednesday the situation in two states – Maharashtra and Punjab – is of ‘grave concern’ as they are home to districts with the most concentrated number of cases. While Maharashtra accounts for nine of 10 districts that have emerged as hotspots, Punjab, which is the epicentre of the months-long farmer protests, has also shown a considerable spike in Covid-19 infections, the Centre said during a media briefing in Delhi.

Additionally, Gujarat, Karnataka (with one district as a hotspot), Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh have also shown an upward swing in cases. In Maharashtra, districts like Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Thane and Nashik are worrisome, while the situation is worsening in Punjab’s Jalandhar, SAS Nagar, Ludhiana, Patiyala and Hoshiarpur.

“Gujarat is reporting around 1,700 cases daily and MP around 1,500 cases. Most cases in Gujarat are concentrated in Surat, Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Rajkot and Bhavnagar. In MP, it is concentrated in Bhopal, Indore, Jabalpur, Ujjain and Betul,” Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said.

The government said the way to fight the virus, which is making a resurgence, is to suppress the chain of transmission, follow Covid-appropriate behaviour and conduct more tests. In this regard, Niti Aayog member Dr VK Paul said states need to do more. Appreciating the Delhi government’s decision to curb Holi gatherings, Dr Paul urged other states to follow suit.

Reiterating the three key points to fight the pandemic, Dr Balram Bhargava, the director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said, “Test, test, test. Mask, mask, mask. Vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate.”

Call for aggressive vaccination

Calling for a scaling up in the vaccination drive to contain the pandemic, Dr Bhushan said, “We have requested states to perform better.”

Dr Paul said age-based vaccination criteria is a reason why we have seen such smooth vaccinations in the country, while adding that the vulnerable needs to be protected first. He further said “We have enough vaccines. (However, there is) great room for improvement for vaccinations in the private sector.”

Regarding the extension of gap between two vaccine doses, the government said protection is enhanced if the second dose of Covishield is administered between six to eight weeks, but not later, while reiterating that it is valid only Covishield and not Covaxin.

The government all citizens aged more than 45 years have been allowed to take the shots as case fatality is more in this age group. Twenty states have administered first dose to more than 92% healthcare workers (HCWs), while 10 states have done it for all (100%). As many as 14 states have administered the second dose of the vaccine to more than 85% HCWs.

The government said Telangana, Chandigarh, Nagaland and Punjab are not vaccinating enough — less than 70% of HCWs have received the shots. While 11 states have given the first dose of vaccine to more than 90% frontline workers, Telangana, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Chandigarh need to improve their performance.

Regarding mutations, the government said Maharashtra, Delhi and Gujarat are witnessing the mutants. Dr Bharghav of the ICMR said both vaccines being administered against coronavirus — Covishield and Covaxin — are effective against UK and Brazilian variants.

Meanwhile, the government said genome sequencing by the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG) shows variants of concern and a novel variant in India. The consortium said on Wednesday that the novel 'double mutation variant' of the SARS-CoV-2 was found in Maharashtra.

The ministry, however, said it could not be sufficiently established yet if these variants were behind the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in some states. It said genome sequencing by Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG) has identified variants of concerns (VOCs) in several states and a new double mutant variant.

The government said genome sequencing has also been ramped up — from 3,000 in December to 11,000 at present.