Relatively stable trend in rate at which coronavirus infection is increasing: Health ministry

New Delhi, Mar 26 (PTI) There has been no solid evidence of community transmission of COVID-19 in India as yet and the infection appears to be relatively stabilising considering the rate at which it is increasing, the health ministry said on Thursday.

At the same, it said the latest figures do not establish a clear trend and in no way the government is relaxed about anything at this point.

The number of coronavirus cases climbed to 694 in India on Thursday and the death rose to 16, according to the Health Ministry.

Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary in the ministry of health, told a press conference that while the 'numbers of COVID-19 cases are increasing, there appears to be relatively a stable trend or even little bit reduction in the rate at which they are increasing'.

'This however does not establish a clear trend and in no way are we relaxed about anything at this point,' he added.

Agarwal said the ministry is hopeful of containing the spread of the coronavirus by social distancing policy, conducting a proper contact tracing of positive cases and by ensuring that all people at home quarantine are monitored.

While adding a note of caution, Agarwal said the community transmission phase of the disease will begin if the community and the government do not work collectively and follow the set guidelines of social distancing, home quarantine and treatment.

He urged people to support the lockdown announced by the prime minister saying social distancing can be an effective intervention to break the chain of transmission and all the efforts will go into waste even if one person does not follow the policy for containment of the disease.   'Continued people's support for implementation of lockdown is needed,' he said.

Commenting over the cases reported in Hyderabad and Bhilwada, Raman R Gangakhedkar, head of the Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases at ICMR said, 'Going by one or two cases we cannot say there has been community transmission. Also why should we hide if there has been a community transmission.' 'There is still no solid evidence to say there has been community transmission of coronavirus infection in India,' he asserted.

Agarwal further said that 17 states have started work on earmarking hospitals for dedicated treatment of COVID-19 patients on their request.

He also denied that the virus spreads through mosquitoes.

He further said that the Cabinet Secretary had discussed with all chief secretaries the lockdown measures and preparedness of states in terms of hospitals and logistic arrangements and has called for making an arrangement to ensure essential commodities reach the people.

He said the ministry in collaboration with AIIMS, Delhi started providing orientation of protocol by training doctors online on  epidemiology, infection control practices and case management.  'Further the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is involved by the government for conducting behavioural module training,' he said.

Agarwal informed that about 64,411 people across the country have been brought into surveillance.  Out of these, 8,300 people are quarantined at facilities  while the remaining  are at home quarantine.  States are  monitoring those people who came to India before the travel restrictions were imposed, he said.

Assuring the general public, Agarwal said India is geared up for COVID-19 challenge.

A home ministry official said a discussion on travel restrictions has been conducted during a meeting of the Group of Ministers and it will be conveyed to the public soon.

On private laboratories being given approval for testing of COVID-19 Gangakhedkar said, though approval has been given, they have not been started testing as they are procuring the test kits.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown for 21 days from Tuesday midnight. PTI PLB GJS ASG MPB ZMN ANB ANB