Amid a spurt in COVID-19 cases, the government on Tuesday said India learnt from the experience of nations that suffered high mortality and was able to "distribute the curve" of the coronavirus infection due to a "very effective" lockdown and avoid the "huge peak" those countries had in terms of deaths.
At a press briefing, Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Dr Balram Bhargava, also said reinfection was "very, very rare" with COVID-19, but it can happen. Bhargava, however, said it was not a matter of serious concern.
The government also asserted that there is absolutely "no shortage" of medical oxygen, vital in the treatment of coronavirus patients, at the national level, while urging states to ensure a proper inventory management at hospital-level and advance planning for timely replenishment so that there is no stockout.
Asserting that India has one of the largest number of COVID-19 recoveries, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said there are 14 states and union territories (UTs) in the country where the number of active cases are less than 5,000. Bhushan said there are 18 states and UTs in the country where the total number of active cases are between 5,000 and 50,000, while there are only four states with more than 50,000 active cases. "India's COVID-19 recoveries have surged to more than 38.59 lakh, which is one of the highest in the world.
According to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, this is the highest number of recoveries in the world," he said. India's COVID-19 caseload sprinted past 49 lakh with 83,809 people testing positive in a day, while 38,59,399 people have recuperated so far taking the national recovery rate to 78.28 per cent on Tuesday, according to the Union Health Ministry data.
The total number of coronavirus cases mounted to 49,30,236, while the death toll climbed to 80,776 with 1,054 people succumbing to the disease in a span of 24 hours, the official data showed. Talking about India's COVID-19 fight, Bhargava said, "If you look at the countries of Europe and the United States, they had a peak and then they came down and during that peak whether it was Spain, the UK or Sweden or Italy, there were huge number of mortalities. Then there was a peak which came down and then they had a second wave which is recently occurring in those countries."
"Fortunately, we took learnings from that in India and we were able to, what we call, 'distribute the curve'. We distributed the curve in such a way that we did not have those large number of deaths and that was attributable scientifically because of a very effective lockdown that was imposed in the months late March, April and May. So, we did not really have a huge peak from that perspective," he said.
The National Task Force on COVID-19 and the joint monitoring group (JMG) in the Union Health Ministry will take a decision on whether to continue plasma therapy in the treatment of COVID-19 patients in India after reviewing data of its randomised controlled trial, Bhargava said.
Asserting that there has been a progressive rise in India's COVID-19 testing, Health Secretary Bhushan said, "We took 27 days to double our testing from 1 crore to 2 crore. However, we took only 10 days to jump from 4 crore tests to 5 crore tests." More than 5.8 crore tests have been conducted so far, out of which, more than 76 lakh tests were conducted in the last week.
"The number of tests that a state or UT conducts has to be seen in tandem with the rate of positivity reported by them. Because test numbers on its own would not give any significant input to us. If in spite of a large number of tests being conducted, if the positivity remains high the state or UT needs to ramp up the testing further," Bhushan underlined. In this context, he said Maharashtra has a positivity rate of 21.5 per cent and hence, requires to increase testing.
Similarly, states like Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh which have a positivity rate of above 12 per cent will have to further ramp up their testing. The health secretary stressed that states should aspire to keep their positivity rate below the national average of 8.4 per cent. Presently, active cases of the infection (9,90,061) are only one-fifth of the total COVID-19 cases so far, he said.
Five states — Maharashtra (29.5%), Karnataka (9.9%), Andhra Pradesh (9.4%), Uttar Pradesh (6.8%) and Tamil Nadu (4.7%)- account for 60 per cent of the total active cases in the country, Bhushan said. He presented a graph showing the daily average of new cases on a week-on-week basis, starting from first week of July in the top five states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
The graph shows an increasing trend of cases in Maharashtra, while stabilization is observed over the last three weeks in Karnataka, he stated. Again, the graph of Uttar Pradesh shows a rising trend, while stabilization over the last three weeks is also observed in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu shows initial signs of decline in the number of cases, Bhushan highlighted.
A rising trend of deaths is also observed in Uttar Pradesh, while Andhra Pradesh is showing early signs of decline over the last three weeks and Tamil Nadu is showing signs of decline over the last four weeks, he said. India's cases per million population at 3,573 is amongst the lowest in the world, while the global average is 3,704, Bhushan said. He also underlined that India's COVID-19 deaths per million population at 58 is also amongst the lowest in the world, against global average of 118. While addressing a query on sero-survey, Bhargava stated, the national sero-survey, which was done in April-May and is being repeated after three months, has been completed in 68 out of 70 districts.
After analysis of the results by this month end, the two studies can be compared. He added that sero-survey also brings out infection fatality rate, which was found to be between 0.5-0.6 in the last national sero-survey, which was much below that in many other countries.