COVID-19 cases may increase in winter, Feluda test rollout expected soon, says Centre; tally crosses 70 lakh

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The Union health ministry also said that the single-day spike in deaths in the country has remained less than 1,000 for eight consecutive days

India reported 74,383 new cases of coronavirus on Sunday, taking the tally beyond 70 lakh only 13 days after it had crossed the 60 lakh-mark. Meanwhile, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said that the indigenously developed ‘Feluda’ paper strip test for COVID-19 diagnosis could be rolled out in the next few weeks and that a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases is likely during winter.

On Sunday, the recovery rate in India rose to 86.17 percent with a total of 60 lakh COVID-19 patients having recovered.

The COVID-19 caseload climbed to 70,53,806, which includes 8,67,496 active cases. The active cases comprise 12.30 percent of the total caseload, the health ministry stated.

The COVID-19 toll climbed to 1,08,334 with 918 people succumbing to the disease in a span of 24 hours, the data updated at 8 am showed.  The COVID-19 case fatality rate due to the coronavirus infection was recorded at 1.54 percent on Sunday.

The ministry added that the single-day spike in deaths remained less than 1,000 for eight consecutive days.

India’s coronavirus cases jumped from 10 lakh to 20 lakh in 21 days. It took 16 more days to cross 30 lakh, 13 days to cross the 40-lakh mark and 11 days to go past 50 lakh. The cases rose from 50 lakh to 60 lakh in 12 days.

It took 110 days for the COVID-19 cases in the country to reach one lakh while it had taken 59 days more to go past the 10 lakh-mark.

However, for the third day in a row the active cases of COVID-19 remained below 9 lakh.

India’s COVID-19 tally had crossed the 20-lakh mark on 7 August, 30 lakh on August 23 and 40 lakh on September 5. It went past 50 lakh on September 16 and had crossed 60 lakh on September 28.

According to the ICMR, a cumulative total of 8,68,77,242 samples have been tested up to October 10 with 10,78,544 samples being tested on Saturday.

‘Emergency use of vaccine to depend on clinical trial data’

Union health minister Harsh Vardhan on Sunday said the Centre has not yet taken a decision on granting emergency authorisation to use COVID-19 vaccines in India, as and when they become available.

Presently, various COVID-19 vaccines are in phases 1, 2, and 3 of human clinical trials, the results of which are awaited, Vardhan said during an interaction with his social media followers on the fifth episode ‘Sunday Samvaad‘ platform.

“Adequate safety and efficacy data is required for emergency use authorisation, vaccine approval for ensuring patient safety. Further course of action will depend on the data generated,” he underlined. The minister had earlier said that a COVID-19 vaccine is likely to be available by the first quarter of 2021.

Categorically rejecting speculation that the government is prioritising young and working-class people to be given the COVID-19 vaccine “for economic reasons”, Vardhan said, “The prioritisation of groups for COVID-19 vaccine shall be based on two key considerations —occupational hazard and risk of exposure to infection, and the risk of developing severe disease and increased mortality.”

When asked about how the government plans to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine, he said that it is anticipated that supplies of vaccines would be available in limited quantities in the beginning.

“In a huge country like India, it is critical to prioritise vaccine delivery based on various factors such as the risk of exposure, comorbidity among various population groups, the mortality rate among COVID-19 cases, and several others,” the minister said.

On the rollout of the Feluda test, he said that based on tests in over 2,000 patients during the trials at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) and testing in private labs, the test showed 96 percent sensitivity and 98 percent specificity.

This compares favourably to ICMR’s current acceptation criteria of RT-PCR Kit of at least 95 percent sensitivity and at least 99 percent specificity, he stated.

He added that the Feluda paper strip test for SARS-CoV-2 diagnosis has been developed by CSIR-IGIB and has been approved by the Drug Controller General of India for a commercial launch.

“The kit has already been validated by the Department of Atomic Energy’s National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore. While I cannot put an exact date on the availability, we should expect this test within the next few weeks,” he said.

Meanwhile, Vardhan said a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases is likely during the winter.

“Respiratory viruses are known to thrive better in cold weather and low humidity conditions. There is another fact which needs to be kept in mind. There is overcrowding in residential dwellings of many people in the winter season. This also increases the transmission of respiratory viruses”, he  was quoted as saying by Indian Express.

‘People’s commitment needed to win war against COVID-19’

Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray said the war against COVID-19 “will be won” by the “whole-hearted participation” of people, who have to decide whether to follow protocols to contain the spread of the disease or remain in lockdown.

In a webcast on Sunday, Thackeray said COVID-19 is a “foreign guest not leaving us despite our best efforts”, and added that it is spreading from cities to rural areas.

He said 70 to 80 percent COVID-19 patients are asymptomatic, and said that the face mask is “self-defence” or a “black belt” in the fight against the viral infection till a vaccine is developed.

“I don’t want to impose strict laws or penalty against violators of the COVID-19 protocols. The war against the pandemic will be won by people’s whole-hearted participation,” he said.

“You have to decide whether you want to wear mask, follow physical distancing or be in lockdown. Whatever is started shouldn’t be closed down again,” he said.

On the demands for resumption of local train services for all citizens, the chief minister said he was not in favour of crowding in the suburban trains.

Thackeray also said he was in talks with gym owners for a standard operating procedure (SOP) for their services.

“In a gym, the heart pumping rate increases and if somebody is COVID-19 positive, the spread (by way of exhaling) will be faster,” he said, adding one needs to figure out how to avoid that.

Schools not to reopen in Maharashtra before Diwali

As the coronavirus cases continue to rise in Maharashtra, state school education minister Varsha Gaikwad has said schools will not reopen in the state before Diwali. Maharashtra has till now reported 15,17,434 COVID-19 cases and 40,040 deaths due to the disease.

The Centre on 16 March announced closure of all educational institutions, including schools, colleges and universities, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. It has now allowed graded reopening of schools from 15 October.

Gaikwad, who recently recovered from COVID-19, said schools have been conducting virtual classes and teachers have been taking special classes for students in some areas. However, the challenge is to find a way to end the academic year and assess students, she said.

“While we are exploring various options, it is clear that schools will not open before Diwali,” Gaikwad said.

According to senior officials in the state education department, reopening schools under the current circumstances is out of question, as there is no sign of the pandemic abating, PTI reported.

Maharashtra higher and technical education minister Uday Samant also said his department does not intend to reopen colleges until the COVID-19 situation is under control.

“The situation is grim for students who wish to pursue higher studies abroad, as their future depends on our decision,” he added.

Karnataka govt declares mid-term holiday for schools

Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa on Sunday ordered a three-week mid-term holiday for all types of school activities in the state from 12 to 30 October in the wake of many teachers having contracted coronavirus, PTI reported.

“I have come to know through the media about many teachers contracting COVID-19 infection, so keeping in mind the health of teachers and students, I have directed senior officials to issue an order declaring mid-term holiday for three weeks from 12 to 30 October,” Yediyurappa said in a statement.

Yediyurappa noted that in the backdrop of COVID-19 infections, orders have already been issued not to open schools for the time being and to halt Vidyagama programme, which enabled continued schooling to government school students by teachers visiting their vicinities.

The government had earlier this month cancelled mid-term holidays, scheduled between 3 to 26 October, for schools in the state for the year 2020-21.

In the wake of reports that 34 students and some teachers tested positive for the COVID-19, the state government on Saturday had decided to halt the Vidyagama programme temporarily.

Delhi-Katra Vande Bharat train to resume from 15 Oct

Union minister Jitendra Singh said the Vande Bharat train from Delhi to Katra, where the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine is located, will resume its service from 15 October.

The move comes after his recent discussion with Railway Minister Piyush Goyal regarding resumption of the train to Katra in Jammu and Kashmir ahead of Navratri festival.

“As follow-up to discussion with Railway Minister Sh @PiyushGoyal two days back, Ministry of Rly has announced resumption of #VandeBharatExpress train from New Delhi to #KatraVaishnoDevi from 15th October. A huge relief & exciting information for pilgrims on the eve of #Navratri,” Singh tweeted.

Singh, the Minister of State for Personnel, is the Lok Sabha member from Jammu and Kashmir’s Udhampur constituency.

State-wise deaths

The 918 new fatalities include 308 from Maharashtra, 102 from Karnataka, 67 from Tamil Nadu, 62 from West Bengal, 60 from Uttar Pradesh, 48 from Delhi, 39 from Chhattisgarh and 35 from Andhra Pradesh.

A total of 1,08,334 deaths have been reported so far in the country including 40,040 from Maharashtra followed by 10,187 from Tamil Nadu, 9,891 from Karnataka, 6,353 from Uttar Pradesh, 6,194 from Andhra Pradesh, 5,740 from Delhi, 5,563 from West Bengal, 3,798 from Punjab and 3,557 from Gujarat.

With inputs from agencies

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