COVID-19 update: ICMR rolls out rapid antibody tests in hotspots as number of cases rise to 3374 across India
CoroFlu — a potential COVID-19 vaccine — may be ready for human clinical trials by autumn 2020, Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech said Friday.
CoroFlu — a potential COVID-19 vaccine — may be ready for human clinical trials by autumn 2020, Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech said Friday. Bharat Biotech is developing the vaccine in collaboration with US-based FluGen and the University of Wisconsin Madison. The vaccine is designed to piggyback on a self-limiting flu virus, and potentially help people develop an immunity to the new coronavirus.
Globally, over 1.2 million people have got a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 so far and over 64,000 of those have died. Europe has borne the brunt in terms of deaths. The US has the highest number of cases, contributing to about 25% of the global burden. Health experts world over have expressed concern that the official numbers may be a fraction of the actual number of cases.
Over half of humanity is in some state of government-mandated lockdown in an effort to clamp down transmission. In addition, the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and World Bank described the global economic landscape as dire, with a major recession imminent.
Indian cases rise; one-third of them linked to Tablighi meeting
India’s cases have grown exponentially in the last few days - there are now 3,374 confirmed cases and 77 deaths according to the health ministry. Himachal Pradesh saw its biggest spike in the number of cases Saturday after seven people tested positive in the north Indian state.
In a briefing on Thursday, Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Health, had said that as many as 647 cases from 14 states had been linked to a meeting of the Tablighi Jamaat at Nizamuddin in Central Delhi. By Saturday, this number had grown to about 1,000 or nearly a third of all confirmed cases. The Tablighi meeting was, of course, called and started on 3 March 2020, before the World Health Organization had deemed COVID-19 a pandemic.
Testing ramping up
Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Saturday issued new guidelines to ensure blood-based rapid antibody testing for anybody with flu-like symptoms in the hotspots - hotspots are areas where there is a high risk of transmission. The health ministry has identified at least 20 such areas, including Nizammudin in Delhi and Kannur in Kerala. Anyone testing positive in this rapid antibody test would then be sent for one of the following: clinical assessment, hospital treatment or home isolation.
ICMR has also stepped up the rate of testing: the medical authority reported 10,034 samples on 3 April and another 11,182 on 4 April, taking the cumulative number of tests done to 79,950 as of 9 pm IST on 4 April. However, this is just .006% of India’s population of 133.9 crore. The current testing capacity of India is 12,000 tests a day.
Separately, a Delhi-based private lab - Dr Dangs Lab in Punjabi Bagh - has opened India’s first drive-through COVID-19 testing facility. Firstpost had reported a similar arrangement in South Korea on 4 March and held it up as an example that India could follow.
Also in Delhi, 108 hospital staff at Ganga Ram Hospital were put in quarantine after two patients tested positive at the 99-year-old hospital.
Of the tests done on 4 April, 324 had come back positive for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Further, the National Health Authority on Saturday said that all beneficiaries of the government’s Ayushman Bharat health insurance scheme would get free testing and treatment facility for COVID-19.
Push to increase the manufacture of ventilators, procure PPEs
A meeting conducted by NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant with a recently constituted empowered group had highlighted supply-side issues in PPE (Personal Protective Equipment such as masks, gowns and goggles for doctors), testing kits and ventilators. It was estimated that there are between 20,000-30,000 dysfunctional ventilators across the country. The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has been tasked with coordinating with state governments to rehabilitate these ventilators. The plan is to form a coalition of ventilator manufacturers in the country to quickly ramp up supply. As for PPEs and testing kits, the committee has recommended a reduction in import duties given the country’s limited ability to manufacture locally.
Staggered release from lockdown
A day after the Center suggested a staggered release from the lockdown, the Punjab government suggested that it may be compelled to extend the curfew in the state. No decisions have been made yet, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said. The assessment will be based on the rise in cases in the coming days and the impact of the Tablighi meeting on the state. A huge wheat procurement drive had been planned for the 15th of April which will encourage large gatherings - the state may extend curfew to prevent this.
China declared Saturday a national day of mourning to commemorate all those who have lost their lives to the novel coronavirus. The national flag flew at half-mast. Three minutes of silence was observed at 10 AM Beijing time (7:30 AM IST) to mark the event.
South Korea issued social distancing guidelines that will last two weeks to curb the spread of the virus. A slow uptick in cases over the past days compelled this move. All religious, sports and entertainment gatherings will be banned during this time.
Italy, the country worst affected in terms of deaths, saw 681 deaths on Saturday - lower than 766 deaths on Friday, but still high. However, the infection rate has been stable for some days, sparking hope that the outbreak has peaked and is moving towards a slow retreat.
For more information, read our article on COVID-19 Myths and the Truth About Them.
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