COVID-19 roundup: Low-key Christmas observed, more UK returnees test positive; Centre to conduct vaccine dry runs
India's COVID-19 caseload rose to 1,01,46,845 on Friday with 23,067 new infections being reported in a day, while the total recoveries crossed 97 lakh, according to Union Health Ministry data
Several states like Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, and Assam reported UK returnees among new COVID-19 positive cases amid a countrywide effort to trace, isolate and curb the spread of a new virus strain that has been detected in Britain while muted celebrations marked Christmas across India.
Meanwhile, India's COVID-19 caseload rose to 1,01,46,845 on Friday with 23,067 new infections being reported in a day, while the total recoveries crossed 97 lakh, according to Union Health Ministry data.
The toll increased to 1,47,092 with 336 new fatalities, the data at 8 am showed. The health ministry stressed that more than 70 percent of the deaths occurred due to comorbidities.
The number of people who have recuperated from the disease surged to 97,17,834 during the same period, pushing the national recovery rate to 95.77 percent. The case fatality rate stood at 1.45 percent.
The active caseload remained below three lakh for the fourth consecutive day. There are 2,81,919 active cases of coronavirus infection in the country which comprises 2.78 percent of the total caseload, the data showed.
Globally, the US on Friday became the latest country to announce new travel restrictions on the UK because of the new COVID-19 variant spreading in Britain. The US said it will require airline passengers from Britain to get a negative COVID-19 test before their flight.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says airline passengers from the UK will have to get negative COVID-19 tests within three days of their trip and provide the results to the airline.
India and many other countries have barred flights from the UK since the new variant came to light.
States report COVID-19 patients among UK returnees
Karnataka health minister K Sudhakar on Friday said so far 10 people who have come to the state from the UK have tested positive for COVID-19 and their samples have been sent for genetic sequencing to find out whether it is a new strain of the virus that has infected them.
"Among the UK returnees, according to the information I have, about 10 people have tested positive. All their samples have been sent to NIMHANS, two to three days are required for genetic sequencing, once that (report) is out we will get to know whether it is the second strain, and accordingly we will follow necessary procedures for treatment," he said.
Speaking to reporters, Sudhakar said, things relating to the mutated strains of the coronavirus were still being studied and according to initial studies, another variant of South African origin was more intensive than the one found in the UK.
The minister had recently said that about 2,500 people have come to the state from the UK from 25 November to 22 December in two flights — operated by Air India and British Airways — and efforts were on to trace, monitor their health, and subject them to tests.
In Telangana, seven people who returned from the UK tested positive for COVID-19 Friday and their swab samples have been sent for screening.
The seven have been admitted to hospitals and are being monitored continuously, public health director G Srinivas Rao said. "We have found seven persons who returned from the UK during the past two weeks to be positive for the coronavirus . Their samples were sent to CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) for further tests to check if they have the new strain of the virus," he told PTI.
Meanwhile, one returnee each tested positive in Assam and Madhya Pradesh.
In Madhya Pradesh's Indore, a 29-year-old man who returned last week tested positive, however, it was not yet clear if he has been infected by the UK variant of the novel coronavirus .
"We will send this patient's samples to advanced laboratories in Delhi and Pune to know more about the infection. It is not clear if it is the same strain. He has no symptoms but has been admitted in a separate ward under special supervision," Sumit Shukla, in-charge of the Government Super-specialty Hospital, said.
Another official said the man arrived in Indore via Delhi from Scotland on 18 December. After he tested positive for the virus, his family members too were shifted to a quarantine centre in the city.
Additionally, Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma was quoted by PTI as saying that the swab samples of a recent returnee who has tested positive have been sent to the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune to ascertain whether the patient has contracted a new strain of coronavirus .
"The samples of the patient have been sent to NIV, Pune, to ascertain whether the person has contracted the new strain of COVID-19 or not. We will provide the details only after we get the report," the minister said.
Asked whether the government will enforce fresh lockdown to contain the spread of the disease in the state, Sarma said there is no possibility of taking any such measure as the number of daily cases has come down to less than 100. Most of the recent cases were found during contact tracing, and many new patients have travel history, Sarma said.
Hindustan Times reported that the Mumbai civic body will be monitoring over 1,500 UK returnees in the city and that it has "prepared a list of the residential locations of these individuals and divided them as per their local administrative wards". The civic body will be monitoring travellers who arrived in Mumbai between 25 November and 22 December.
"Ward officials have been directed to contact the returnees, check their health, send a medical team if needed, and also prescribe reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction tests if required. The positive samples will be sent to Pune’s National Institute of Virology for genome sequencing to identify the new strain," the report said.
In Goa, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant appealed to returnees to remain isolated for some period even if they test negative for COVID-19 .
"Those who have arrived from the UK recently should get themselves tested. Even if they test negative in the RT-PCR test, they should remain in isolation and get themselves tested again," Sawant told reporters on Thursday night.
Dry run for COVID-19 immunisation drive in 4 states next week
To assess the readiness of the mechanism laid out for the COVID-19 inoculation drive, a dry run has been planned by the Centre on 28 and 29 December in four states — Punjab, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, and Gujarat.
The exercise will include necessary data entry in Co-WIN, an online platform for monitoring of vaccine delivery, testing receipt and allocation, deployment of team members, mock drill of session sites with test beneficiaries, a well as reporting and evening meeting, the Union Health Ministry said on Friday.
It will also include testing of cold storage and transportation arrangements for COVID-19 vaccine, management of crowd at session sites with proper physical distancing, the ministry said.
Each state will plan it in two districts and preferably in five different session-type settings — district hospital, community health centre (CHC) or primary health care centre (PHC), urban site, private health facility, and rural outreach.
"This exercise will enable end-to-end mobilisation and testing of COVID-19 vaccination process (except the vaccine) and check the usage of Co-WIN in a field environment, linkages between planning, implementation and reporting mechanisms, identify challenges and guide the way forward prior to actual implementation including improvements that may be required in the envisaged process," the health ministry said.
This will also provide hands-on experience to programme managers at various levels.
Muted Christmas celebrations across country this year
Several states in India observed a muted Christmas amid the COVID-19 pandemic this year.
In Goa and Kerala, Christmas celebrations were observed in traditional fervour with adherence to COVID-19 protocol, PTI reported. In Goa, where nearly 30 percent population is Christian, celebrations started in adherence with government-implemented rules.
"People came out in large numbers to attend the midnight mass. However, only 200 people were allowed to attend the mass in each church and the attendees had to maintain physical distance, wear masks and sanitise their hands," a priest attached to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church in Panaji said on Friday.
In Kerala, all festivities and rituals were performed in compliance with COVID protocols in the wake of concerns over the spread of the viral infection. Cutting across age barriers, devotees including children and senior citizens, could be seen wearing masks and cleansing hands with sanitisers before entering church halls for attending special prayers and midnight mass.
Devotees as well as clergy maintained social distancing strictly in a majority of churches and cathedrals.
In Tamil Nadu, the COVID-19 pandemic cast a shadow over Christmas celebrations in Tamil Nadu on Friday as churches saw devotees offering prayers strictly adhering to all the protocols laid down by the government.
Members of the Christian community while maintaining social distancing norms and wearing masks, attended midnight masses and special prayers held in various churches, including the ancient Santhome Basilica here and exchanged greetings.
Devotees were directed to collect tokens before entering churches so as to ensure limited number of them were allowed were present in view of the pandemic.
Urdu poet Shamsur Rahman Faruqi passes away after COVID-19 recovery
Legendary Urdu poet and critic Shamsur Rahman Faruqi passed away on Friday at his Allahabad home, a month after recovering from COVID-19 . He was 85.
"He had been insisting to go back to his home in Allahabad. We reached here only this morning and within half an hour he passed away at around 11," Faruqi's nephew and writer Mahmood Farooqui told PTI.
The Padma Shri poet was discharged from a hospital in Delhi on 23 November after recovering from coronavirus . "But due to steroids, he developed a fungal infection, mycosis, which further worsened his condition," Farooqui added.
Born on 30 September, 1935, in Uttar Pradesh, Faruqi is credited to have revived Dastangoi, a 16th century Urdu oral storytelling art form.
His books Mirror of Beauty (translated into English from the Urdu Kai Chaand The Sar-e-Aasmaan in 2006), Ghalib Afsaney Ki Himayat Mein (1989) and The Sun That Rose From The Earth (2014) are among others he wrote in his five-decade-long literary career.
He also received Saraswati Samman in 1996 for his work She'r-e Shor-Angez, a four-volume study of the 18th-century poet Mir Taqi Mir.
India's COVID-19 tally had crossed the 20-lakh mark on 7 August, 30 lakh on 23 August, and 50 lakh on 16 September. It went past 60 lakh on 28 September and crossed the one-crore mark on 19 December.
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, 16,63,05,762 samples have been tested for detection of COVID-19 up to 24 December with 9,97,396 samples being tested on Thursday itself.
Of the 336 new fatalities, 89 were reported from Maharashtra, 37 from Delhi, 32 from West Bengal, and 22 each from Kerala, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh.
Of the total deaths reported in the country so far, Maharashtra accounted for the highest 49,058 fatalities, followed by 12,039 from Karnataka, 12,036 from Tamil Nadu, 10,384 from Delhi, 9,505 from West Bengal, 8,267 from Uttar Pradesh, 7,089 from Andhra Pradesh and 5,260 from Punjab.
With inputs from PTI
Once thawed, the vials can be stored at fridge temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius for up to five days, it clarified.
The government has also decided to extend current social distancing levels for at least another two weeks.
The state has reported the highest daily new cases at 9,855. This is the highest number recorded in Maharashtra since 18 October, when 10,259 new cases were reported