As India gears up to enter the next stage of lockdown with significant relaxations, public health experts, including two members of an ICMR research group, have said that community transmission has been established in the country.
A joint statement issued by Indian Public Health Association, Indian Association of Preventive and Social Medicine and Indian Association of Epidemiologists said: “It is unrealistic to expect that COVID-19 pandemic can be eliminated at this stage given that community transmission is already well-established across large sections or sub-populations in the country.”
The government has, however, repeatedly said that no community transmission has taken place so far in India.
On Saturday, India's COVID-19 death toll crossed the 5,000-mark and the case count reached 1.76 lakh after a record spike in numbers of new cases and fatalities, while the government said a phased exit would begin on June 1m from the months-long nationwide lockdown.
“India’s nationwide lockdown from March 25, 2020 till May 30, 2020 has been one of the most stringent; and yet COVID cases have increased exponentially through this phase… This draconian lockdown is presumably in response to a modeling exercise from an influential institution which was a ‘worst-case simulation,'" the statement said.
The signatories of the statement include Dr Shashi Kant, Professor & Head, Centre for Community Medicine AIIMS, New Delhi and Dr DCS Reddy, Former Professor & Head, Community Medicine, BHU. The two are part of an ICMR research group which was set up on April 6 on epidemiology and surveillance for Covid-19. Notably, Dr Reddy chairs the group.
The statement added that the subsequent events had proven that the predictions of this model were way off the mark.
"Had the Government of India consulted epidemiologists who had better grasp of disease transmission dynamics compared to modelers, it would have perhaps been better served…,” it said.
The statement further says that the handling of the migrant workers has added to the challenges in limiting the spread of Covid-19, the IE report added. The signatories make a range of recommendations, including the setting up of a panel of inter-disciplinary preventive health and public health experts and social scientists at central, state and district levels to tackle both public health and humanitarian crises.