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Kerala paying for gross negligence, says Vardhan

Minister appeals to everyone to celebrate festival indoors
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan
File picture

Our Bureau And Agencies   |   New Delhi   |   Published 18.10.20, 06:08 PM

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said Kerala, which was witnessing a spike in coronavirus infections recently, 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 (August 22), the state had reported around 54,000 cases, while the death toll was nearly 200.

During an interaction with  social media followers on the sixth episode of “Sunday Samvaad”, Vardhan reiterated his request to everyone to celebrate festivals at home with their loved ones in the traditional way to ward off the risk of coronavirus infection.

This festive season, charity must take precedence over celebrations, he said.
"My own celebrations too shall remain subdued due to the heart-rending impact of COVID-19 on lakhs of corona warriors across the world battling for us," the minister stated.

He said there was no shortage of medical oxygen in the country and that the government was ready to scale up production capacity to meet any further increase in demand arising due to the pandemic.

On Kerala, Vardhan said between January 30 and May 3, the state had reported just 499 cases and two deaths due to the disease. He regretted that "Kerala was paying the price of gross negligence" during the recent Onam festivities when state-wise unlocking of services, along with an increase in inter and intra-state travel for trade and tourism, led to the spread of COVID-19 across various districts.

“The epi curve of Kerala changed completely due to Onam festivities across the state. The daily new cases nearly doubled," Vardhan said.

No mutation

Vardhan also said that as of yet no mutation of coronavirus had been detected in India that is either more transmission efficient or more pathogenic.

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.

Replying to a query, Vardhan said that community transmission of COVID-19 is limited to certain districts in a limited number of states. In different pockets across various states, including West Bengal, community transmission of COVID-19 is expected to occur, especially in the densely-populated areas, he said.

"However, this is not happening across the country. Community transmission is limited to certain districts, occurring in a limited number of states," Vardhan said.

The minister was responding after a participant, while citing West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's remark that there are instances of community transmission in her state, asked which states have seen community transmission.

Newspapers are safe

Vardhan rekindled the joy of having morning tea with the daily newspaper in a respondent by reassuring him that there is no scientific evidence that proves that novel coronavirus transmission can happen via newspapers.

"Reading newspapers is completely safe even during the COVID-19 pandemic," he said.

On the availability of medical oxygen in the country, he said the current oxygen production capacity of India is around 6400 MT/Day.

The government is ready to scale up the production capacity to meet any further increase in demand arising due to the pandemic, he said.

“The Empowered Group constituted by the home ministry is monitoring the requirement of medical oxygen across India. The health ministry is also monitoring the availability and supply of medical oxygen at the field level through regular video conferencing with state nodal officers as well as with principal secretaries or mission directors,” he said.

Intranasal Covid vaccine trials

Vardhan remarked that although there are no intranasal COVID-19 vaccines under trial in India at the moment, Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech are expected to pursue clinical trials of such vaccines in the country in the coming months on receipt of regulatory approval.

In a follow-up to a question from the last episode, Vardhan was asked on phase 2 of the COVID-19 grants to states, to which he said Rs 1,352 crore have already been released as part of the second COVID Package to 33 states and UTs.

This phase 2 grant has been released in trenches during August, September and October this year, he said.

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