Centre flags 145 districts as potential Covid-19 hotspots
The central government has identified 145 new districts, mostly rural, that have reported Covid-19 infections over the past three weeks and warned that they could emerge as “epicentres” of the disease if effective containment measures are not undertaken. In a presentation to representatives of states on Thursday, cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba highlighted that eastern India was likely to be the next big Covid-19 hotspot with the return of migrant workers from the worst-hit states.
The cabinet secretary said 12 states, including Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha in eastern India which had not reported many cases earlier, have witnessed rapid infection spread in the three weeks until May 25. Other states such as Tripura and Manipur, too, have reported an increase in Covid-19 cases after having infections in single digits earlier.
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The health ministry said bigger states such as Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh accounted for the bulk of India’s around 1,65,000 cases until Thursday. There has been a faster increase in the cases over in the past fortnight. India had reported 75,000 cases until May 13. The ministry said the bigger states remained the main contributors to the surge but that states such as Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha saw sharp increase in cases.
“It is primarily because of the return of migrant workers from Covid-19 hotspot states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh that the cases increased in eastern India,” said an official on condition of anonymity. “As the rush of migrant workers was huge, there was no proper screening of passengers at railway and bus stations. Therefore, many took infections from one state to another.”
The ministry has identified the 145 districts, where state governments need to “proactively” conduct containment activities to ensure that new epicentres do not emerge. According to the presentation, 2,147 active cases in these districts account for 2.5% of the total cases in India. Of these, 26 districts have more than 20 active cases.
Half of these districts are in Assam, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh.
Bihar health secretary Lokesh Kumar Singh said the government is concerned as migrant workers account for around two-thirds of about 3,200 cases in the state.
Jharkhand minister Rameshwar Oran said only a few cases have been reported from outside quarantine centres, which shows the virus has not spread. “We have been able to control the spread even though a large number of workers returned from infected places.”
Odisha’s additional chief secretary, Pradipta Kishore Mohapatra, said the state’s Covid-19 recovery rate of 41% was better than the national average of 42%. “None of the new Covid patients is in ICU [intensive care units] or [on] ventilator [support] and we are confident of overcoming the crisis once all migrant workers return.”
The health ministry also expressed concern over an increase in the Covid-19 confirmation rate, or the positives for total tests done, in some states such as Delhi, Maharashtra and Bihar.
Most states have recorded a fall in the Covid-19 fatality rate even as it increased in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat between May 18 and May 25, according to the ministry. The fatality rate has declined from 8.5% to 7.1% in West Bengal but was remains the highest for any major state.
Former Indian Medical Association president Dr K K Agarwal said the fatality and the confirmation rates in India were still less than the western countries. “Everybody expected the cases to increase ; it does not mean the lockdown failed. The lockdown has helped us to contain the spread.”