Recent surge in COVID-19 cases being closely monitored: Harsh Vardhan

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New Delhi, Mar 26 (PTI) The recent surge in coronavirus cases in the country is being closely monitored and measures, including strict enforcement of COVID protocols and creating micro-containment zones, will be taken to keep a check the contagion, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Friday.

Vaccination drive is going on and its pace is increasing with each passing day. Priority groups have been identified on the basis of recommendations of the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC), he said.

'The focus is protecting those at highest risk of mortality and those involved in pandemic response. As of Friday, 5.31 crore doses have been administered. In January, 2.4 lakh doses were being administered daily, whereas in the last week of March it was 20 lakh. Now, the government has expanded the coverage to citizens above 45 years.

'The pace of vaccination is going to increase. As for imposing restrictions, COVID-19 situation continues to evolve and change each day. The silver lining here is that we are better prepared now to tackle any challenges that the pandemic throws our way,' he said.

Steps, including include strict enforcement of COVID-19 protocols as well as creating micro-containment zones wherever needed will be used to keep a check on the rise in cases, he said at the 'India Economic Conclave' organised by Times Now.

Commenting on the COVID-19 trajectory in India and the recent surge in cases, Vardhan said concerted efforts of the Centre and the states and the country's investment in the 'test, track and treat' strategy have resulted in India recording one of the lowest cases and deaths per million population.

'We have amply demonstrated that our policy of test, track and treat effectively contains the transmission of the virus.' The health minister said a graded opening up of the economy and beginning commercial activities followed a sustained decline in COVID-19 epi-curve in the country.

'This was essential to negate the economic impact that COVID-19 has had globally, including India. Historically, the pandemics of the past have come in waves and COVID is no exception. This was amply witnessed when the second wave hit Europe and the Americas. It still eludes the scientific community why pandemics behave in this way,' he said.

Vardhan said physical distancing is an established non-pharmaceutical intervention to suppress and contain the transmission of COVID-19.

'The modality for ensuring physical distancing measures has to be evidence-based. In this context, partial lockdowns, such as night curfews or weekend lockdowns, would not have much impact on the transmission cycle.' 'As for the vaccine, there are still many critical unknowns, especially with regards to the impact on transmission and duration of protection these vaccines offer. Further, what is clear is it reduces the severity of the disease and hence impacts mortality.' The health minister said the vaccination drive is being conducted in accordance with emerging science-based data analysed through algorithms which suggest that if a majority of the population are immunised then it is possible to get control over the disease.

'This is like achieving herd immunity through vaccination,' he said.

Six vaccines are at different stages of trial and will be granted permission as and when they complete all statutory requirements. The Drugs Controller General of India is looking on this matter, Vardhan added. PTI PLB NSD NSD