Kumbh, farmer movement, weddings, polls may have led to spurt in COVID-19 cases: Vardhan 

Centre turns down Maharashtra government request of vaccinating individuals above 25 years

By DTE Staff
Published: Tuesday 06 April 2021
Kumbh, farmer movement, marriages, elections led to spurt in COVID-19 cases: Harsh Vardhan 
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan addressing the virtual conference with state health ministers. Photo: Official Twitter Handle of Harsh Vardhan Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan addressing the virtual conference with state health ministers. Photo: Official Twitter Handle of Harsh Vardhan

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan April 6, 2021 said the Kumbh Mela, farmers’ movement, elections (panchayat and others) and weddings could have led to the recent surge in novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in India.

Vardhan made the comments during a meeting with health ministers of 11 states. These include Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Haryana, Kerala and Chandigarh. These states have reported a consistent increasing trend in terms of the number of daily new cases. 

The minister said:

The activities resumed in the last few months. The offices have also opened up but people just gave up on COVID-appropriate behaviour. The casual approach is to be seen all around

However, dealing with all of this does not require rocket science but adhering to same old strategy what had been devised for the earlier phase of pandemic.

Vardhan blamed big social gatherings for the surge in addition to non-adherence of covid-appropriate behaviour. He also said the number of districts that were not reporting any COVID-19 cases for weeks and months, had also come down. This indicated the infection had spread to areas which were almost free of it.

The minister noted that the UK variant of SARS-CoV-2 had been seen in more than 80 per cent samples in Punjab. Genome sequencing in those samples had confirmed this, he added. Chhattisgarh was reporting more than 20 per cent positivity, Vardhan said. 

The health ministers pointed towards black marketing of the drug remdesivir in their respective states. The demand for the drug has gone up again due to rising cases. The health ministers asked their Central counterpart to regulate the drug’s market. 

However, later, in the day, Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan sought to downplay the effect of the one of the biggest social gatherings on earth — the Kumbh — on the number of COVID-19 cases.

“We should not lose sight of the fact that the duration of Kumbh has already been reduced to one month. Earlier, it used to be for 3-4 months,” he said during the weekly press conference of the health ministry on COVID-19.

The Union government had also issued a standard operating procedure (SOP) regarding practices to be adopted during the Kumbh, Bhushan said. 

“The SOP was prepared keeping tradition in mind. We hope it is being fully complied with,” Niti Aayog, member (health), Vinod Paul added. 

The Central government, meanwhile, has turned down the request of the Maharashtra government to open vaccination for all above the age of 25 years. No country had allowed this, Bhushan said in the press conference.

Without naming any state administration, Bhushan gave examples of countries like the United Kingdom, United States, Sweden, Australia and France saying all these countries had restricted the vaccination to people of age 50 years or above. 

The head of India’s COVID-19 vaccine group, Vinod Paul, said the aim of the vaccination drive was to prevent deaths, which had mostly occurred among people aged above 45 years. Since the supply of COVID-19 vaccines was ‘finite’, the jabs could not be given to anyone and everyone above 25 years of age, he said.

Paul also warned that the next four weeks were going to be extremely critical. The government officials, however, said there was no projection about future numbers for India or the trajectory of the pandemic in the country. 

Maharashtra continues to be the most affected, with seven of the top 10 affected districts in India located in the state, led by Pune and Mumbai. Other than Maharashtra’s districts, Bengaluru Urban, Durg (Chhattisgarh) and Delhi are also in the list.

The health ministry has for long advised states to ensure that at least 70 per cent of the total tests conducted daily should be RT-PCR tests.

According to a snapshot given by the ministry, while a few of the 11 states have crossed the 70 per cent mark, Chhattisgarh (30.6 per cent), Gujarat (27 per cent), Delhi (63.6 per cent) and Kerala (45.7 per cent) have not been able to do so. 

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