Second COVID-19 wave can't be ruled out, states NITI Aayog's VK Paul; Centre says community transmission limited
Vardhan added, 'In different pockets across various states, including West Bengal, community transmission of COVID-19 is expected to occur, especially in densely-populated areas.'
The NITI Aayog on Sunday noted a decline in the number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths in India over the past three weeks, but said it could not rule out the possibility of a second wave of infections in winter.
India's COVID-19 caseload rose by 61,871 new infections on Sunday.
Recoveries surged to 65,97,209, taking the nationwide recovery rate to 88.03 percent. The COVID-19 toll rose to 1,14,031 with 1,033 new deaths reported in 24 hours, the health ministry said.
The number of active cases of coronavirus remained below 8 lakh for the second consecutive day. The total number of cases (74,94,551) includes 7,83,311 active cases, which comprise 10.45 percent of the total caseload, the ministry's data showed.
The COVID-19 case fatality rate stands at 1.52 percent.
On Sunday, India ranked under the US in terms of active cases of COVID-19 as well as the total caseload, according to Worldometer, a website that publishes coronavirus statistics from across the globe.
India is in the number one position in terms of the number of recovered cases, while it is in the third spot in terms of fatalities globally after the US and Brazil.
Centre says community transmission not countrywide
Addressing the sixth episode of 'Sunday Samvad', Vardhan said that community transmission "is not happening across the country".
He was responding to a question from a participant, who cited West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee's remark that there are instances of community transmission in her state. The participant also asked the Union minister which states have found community transmission of the disease.
In reply, Vardhan said, "In different pockets across various states, including West Bengal, community transmission of COVID-19 is expected to occur, especially in densely-populated areas."
"However, this is not happening across the country. Community transmission is limited to certain districts, occurring in a limited number of states," he added.
He also said that so far, no mutation of the coronavirus has been detected in India that is either more transmission-efficient or more pathogenic. The Centre so far has denied community transmission of the coronavirus infection in the country.
Earlier, health ministry officials had said the World Health Organisation (WHO) has not given any standard definition of community transmission.
It permits its member nations to assess the spread of the disease, based on their own analysis of the situation, and do their reporting, which the global body shows on its website.
Broadly, if it is not possible to trace the transmission chain, it means there is community transmission, officials said. The Centre has maintained that there are clusters of cases and there are pockets of localised transmission.
Vardhan also weighed in on the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Kerala. He said the state was paying the "price for gross negligence" during Onam festivities, when unlocking of services along with an increase in travel for trade and tourism led to the spread of COVID-19 .
The minister said this ought to serve as a good lesson for all the state governments that were being negligent in planning for the festival season.
Kerala's COVID-19 tally has crossed 3.3 lakh while the toll climbed to 1,139 on Saturday. Prior to Onam (22 August), the state had reported around 54,000 cases, while the death toll was nearly 200.
Responding to a question on Kerala's situation, Vardhan said that between 30 January and 3 May, the state had reported just 499 cases and two deaths due to the disease.
He expressed disappointment that "Kerala was paying the price of gross negligence" during the recent Onam festivities
"The epi curve of Kerala changed completely due to Onam festivities across the state. The daily new cases nearly doubled," Vardhan said.
Speaking about the countrywide situation, he asserted that there is no shortage of oxygen cylinders in the country and that government is ready to scale up the production capacity to meet any further increase in demand arising due to the pandemic.
Answering a question on the discrepancy in the COVID-19 death figures, Vardhan said that the Ministry of Health has taken up the issue of correct certification of COVID-19 deaths with all states and UTs on multiple instances.
It has also shared a proper modality of reporting of deaths with them to ensure consistency in reporting of COVID-19 related deaths across India, the minister said.
'No proof for China's claim on multiple focal points'
Replying to queries about the investigation into the origin of the COVID-19 virus, Vardhan said there is no evidence that can validate China's claims of multiple global focal points for the outbreak.
China has claimed that the coronavirus broke out simultaneously in several countries last year.
Vardhan added the reported outbreak of COVID-19 from Wuhan in China remains recognised as the first report worldwide.
Responding to a question, he said China has claimed that there was a simultaneous outbreak of the disease across many nations.
"However, to validate this claim that there were multiple focal points across the world requires data of uniform and timely reporting of the occurrence of confirmed and diagnosed cases from various countries at the very same time. No such clinching evidence is as yet available regarding this. Therefore, the reported outbreak of COVID-19 from Wuhan in China has been recognised as the first report worldwide," the minister said.
Nearly 100 Delhi Metro passengers fined
The Delhi Police issued 98 challans to metro passengers for violating guidelines pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The police personnel at metro stations have been conducting a drive to check on those found violating COVID-19 guidelines. Passengers who were not wearing masks or maintaining social distancing have been fined, PTI reported.
In the last four days, 1,903 metro trains were checked and 98 challans were issued to passengers for violating the guidelines to control the pandemic, said Jitendra Mani, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Metro).
He requested all metro passengers to wear masks, maintain social distancing and use hand sanitisers for their safety.
The Delhi Metro was closed on 22 March to contain the spread of the coronavirus , and after 169 days it resumed services in early September with strict safety and social distancing measures.
NITI Aayog says COVID-19 wave likely in winter
NITI Aayog's VK Paul, who is also the chief of expert coordinating efforts to tackle the pandemic in the country, in an interview to PTI, said the COVID-19 situation had stabilised in states in the last few weeks.
He also said that once the COVID-19 vaccine is available, there will be enough resources to deliver as well as make it accessible to the citizens.
"In India, the new coronavirus cases and the number of deaths have declined in the last three weeks and the pandemic has stabilised in most of the states
"However, there are five states (Kerala, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal) and 3-4 Union Territories (UTs), where there is still a rising trend," Paul said.
He is heading the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC).
According to him, India is in a somewhat better position now but the country still has a long way to go because 90 percent of the people are still susceptible to coronavirus infections.
"We cannot rule out (a second coronavirus wave this winter in India). Things can happen and we are still learning about the virus," Paul noted.
' COVID-19 peaked in country, can be contained by February'
The committee, headed by IIT Hyderabad professor M Vidyasagar, added that the pandemic is likely to abate by February 2021.
The committee said that stringent adherence to COVID-19 precautionary measures is key to curb the spread of the infection by next year.
"If all protocols are followed, the pandemic can be controlled by early next year with minimal active cases by February end," the panel was quoted as saying by NDTV.
Using software to study the trajectory of the pandemic in the country, the committee found that the infections are likely to have peaked mid-September,Indian Express reported. The report also quoted the panel as saying that the total number of cases is "unlikely to exceed 106 lakh".
The 1,033 new fatalities include 463 from Maharashtra, 95 from Uttarakhand, 71 from Karnataka, 61 from West Bengal, 57 from Tamil Nadu,40 from Uttar ==Pradesh and 35 from Delhi.
A total of 1,14,031 deaths reported so far in the country include 41,965 from Maharashtra followed by 10,586 from Tamil Nadu, 10,427 from Karnataka, 6,629 from Uttar Pradesh, 6,406 from Andhra Pradesh, 5,992 from West Bengal, 5,981 from Delhi, 3,999 from Punjab and 3,626 from Gujarat.
With inputs from agencies
The experts stressed they were not recommending an additional so-called booster dose for the population at large.
"The Premier League can confirm today that 81 percent of players have received at least one COVID-19 vaccination dose, with 68 percent now fully vaccinated," the league said in a statement.
The countrywide vaccination drive was rolled out on 16 January with healthcare workers (HCWs) getting inoculated in the first phase