Rush at hills an invitation for virus to spread, warns Centre

A video of a crowded Kempty falls in Uttarakhand’s Mussourie was also presented at the briefing, where Niti Aayog member, VK Paul, said that although tourism was key to economic revival for some areas, not observing mask discipline and social distancing “can lead to a serious situation”.
Tourists visit the Mall Road afoter relaxation in Covid-19 curfew, in Manali, Saturday, July 3, 2021. (PTI)
Tourists visit the Mall Road afoter relaxation in Covid-19 curfew, in Manali, Saturday, July 3, 2021. (PTI)
Updated on Jul 10, 2021 02:05 AM IST
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By Rhythma Kaul, New Delhi

The Union health ministry on Friday warned people against complacency in the country’s fight against Covid-19, citing a spike in tourism across hill stations in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand in recent weeks to say that this “behaviour” can be an “invitation for the virus” to spread.

A video of a crowded Kempty falls in Uttarakhand’s Mussourie was also presented at the briefing, where Niti Aayog member, VK Paul, said that although tourism was key to economic revival for some areas, not observing mask discipline and social distancing “can lead to a serious situation”.

“If you see what is happening around the country, there is rampant carelessness - in markets, in recreational places, in tourist spots. We see a particular new risk at tourist places. When such mingling takes place, it’s making it easier for the virus to find new hosts,” he said.

Paul, and Union health ministry joint secretary Lav Aggarwal were speaking at the government’s routine press briefing on Covid-19. The officials reiterated that the second Covid-19 wave in India was not over yet and states relaxing travel and other related restrictions does not mean people do not take necessary precautions.

Aggarwal, pointing to the video of Kempty falls crowding, brought up Modi’s comments on the need for a jan andolan. “Is such a behaviour not an open invitation for the virus to infect us,” he said. “We must introspect if we have a misplaced belief that the danger of Covid is over because we are lifting restrictions”

Paul said states will need to be proactive towards ensuring strict implementation of Covid-safe behavior to avoid out of control transmission. “This risky mix-mingling behavior is posing a serious concern; it is not time for that kind of tourism yet. That time will come when everything will open up normally but it has not come yet,” he said.

Cases are rising in some states, and as many as 53% of the cases are being reported from just two — Maharashtra and Kerala, with 80% of the new cases being reported from 90 districts across 15 states in the country that need special focus, Aggarwal said.

“If we look at past week data, in terms of contribution towards caseload, 21% of the cases have been reported from Maharashtra and 32% from the state of Kerala. From 6,740 new cases that Maharashtra had dropped to, has now gone further up to 9,083 cases. In Kerala new cases had dropped to 8,037 but now it has jumped to about 14-15,000 daily new cases. Even though it is in a limited geographical area still it is a cause for serious concern, and it is important to pay focused attention for implementing intensive containment measures,” he added.

There are about 66 districts with case positivity of more than 10% for the week ending July 10, that includes 10 districts of Arunachal Pradesh and Rajasthan, nine districts of Manipur, eight of Kerala, six of Meghalaya, four of Assam and Sikkim, three of Tripura, and two districts each of Odisha, Mizoram, and Maharashtra indicating increased spread of infection.

Experts said that as long as the spike is transient, it is not of a major concern.“Spikes usually reflect continuing circulation in most places, accentuated by population movement due to unlocking. The spikes also reflect testing levels; not to worry as long as these are transient,” said Dr Giridhara Babu, epidemiology head, Indian Institute of Public Health.

“We are coordinating with states to ensure intensive containment measures are taken to control the infection spread,” said Aggarwal, adding that same precautions will also be needed to be followed during the upcoming kanwar yatra. “We need to balance things: on one hand if we are trying to open up things, it is important on the other hand to follow Covid appropriate behavior so that there is no surge in cases,” he added.

Government’s baseline target is to bring the daily Covid-19 cases to 10,000. “Currently the rate of decline is somewhat slow and we have not completely overpowered the virus yet, which is why it is important to observe Covid safe behavior, said Paul, adding that pregnant women should also start taking the jab as there was enough scientific evidence to support that it offers adequate protection to them.

“Risk of developing complications in pregnant women, especially slipping into pre-term labour and delivery, is higher; therefore, it was decided to open it up even for pregnant women,” said Paul.

The officials also said vaccines for children could be available in the near future if the national drugs regulator approves of Zydus Cadila’s ZyCov-d Covid-19 vaccine that was tested in children in phase 3 trials.

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Monday, October 18, 2021