New Delhi: India reported 179 fresh COVID-19 cases, highest in a single day, taking the tally to 918, and the death toll climbed to 20 on Saturday, as the government shored up efforts to boost health infrastructure, including procurement of ventilators, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a special contributory fund, amid looming fears of the country entering the third stage of community transmission.
The union ministry of health figures, however, still put the overall death toll at 19, as its tally does not reflect the first death in Telangana, as confirmed by the state’s health minister.
The health ministry said out of total 918 cases, 819 were active COVID-19 cases, while 79 people were either cured/discharged and one had migrated. As per the ministry, the total number of cases on Friday stood at 724.
Rejecting suggestions that there may be a possibility of community transmission, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said the rise in cases is not significant to indicate that the virus is spreading rapidly. ICMR has been maintaining that there is "no solid evidence" of community transmission so far.
Despite India being under a 21-day lockdown from Tuesday midnight as part of efforts to check spread of coronavirus, the exodus of a large number of migrant labourers to their native places in huge groups has compounded fears of spread of the virus.
"Till the time we see a significant number of cases to indicate community transmission, let us not over interpret things," said Raman R Gangakhedkar, head of the Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases at ICMR.
According to the health ministry, deaths have been reported from Maharashtra (5), Gujarat (3), Karnataka (2), Madhya Pradesh (2) and one each from Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Punjab, Delhi, West Bengal, Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.
As per officials in Kerala, which has the second highest number of cases after Maharashtra, the state reported its first COVID-19 death on Saturday after a 69-year-old man being treated for the virus died at Ernakulam Medical College Hospital, but it was not included in the central data. Kerala has reported 187 positive cases. The man was admitted to the isolation ward on March 22 after his return from Dubai, the government hospital said in a statement.
A 74-year-old from Hyderabad who had travelled travelled to Delhi recently but had no foreign travel history also tested positive after his death, Telangana’s health minister Eatela Rajender said on Saturday.
Maharashtra has reported 210 cases including 25 who were cured and five deaths.
At a press briefing on the current COVID-19 situation in India, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Lav Agarwal said the government is working with states on health infrastructure preparedness and the focus is having dedicated COVID-19 hospitals and blocks in every states and arrangements are being made to ramp up isolation and ICU beds and other required logistics.
He said 17 states have so far started work on this, he said, adding doctors and nurses are being provided online training from AIIMS, New Delhi on the management of COVID-19 patients. A 24x7 national tele-consultation Centre at AIIMS has also been launched through which doctors in other hospitals and medical colleges will be provided clinical guidance.
"We have been pre-emptive and graded in our approach and had anticipated the situation much before and went for a lockdown when we were getting limited cases of local transmission while other countries took steps much later," he said.
Officials said 111 government laboratories are currently functional across the country and with the private sector being roped in, it has been increased. "As of now we are utilising only 30 per cent of our capacity. More than 5 lakh probes that were imported from USA has arrived, which means we can test an additional 5 lakh people. More so, labs still have reagents to test more than one lakh patients," Gangakhedkar said.