New Delhi: Top central government officials Tuesday said the trends in Covid-19 cases over the last few days (13-17 August), especially on testing and deaths, were “reassuring”, but warned against excessive optimism on vaccines and pointed out that not all candidates in trials are successful.
“If we look at the daily cases since 13 August, it has gone down from over 64,000 to 55,000. There is a reducing trend. But five days is a short span in a pandemic, so there is no room for complacence. What is satisfying, however, is that the work that the states are doing under the guidance of the Centre is showing results,” said Rajesh Bhushan, secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
“The deaths too are going down — from 1,007 on 13 August, it has gone down. Today, it is 876 following a constant downward trend. But there is no room for laxity. We need to continue with our aggressive testing, containment and surveillance,” Bhushan added.
The health secretary declined to make any statement on questions about whether this means that India is past its Covid peak, and said that the government is not inclined to look very favourable at projections of peaks and modellings given that several times in the past such calculations have gone awry.
Dr V.K. Paul, member (health), Niti Aayog, who was also at the weekly briefing, said, “We see reassuring signals in this weekly update; recoveries up, mortality rate reducing. But we are really happy with the daily testing numbers which is absolutely remarkable. We are in control of the pandemic. We will not let the will of the virus rule us. We need to follow what the honourable prime minister asked us to do — masks, social distancing, use of Ayush immunity boosters; we should not go to big gatherings.”
Testing strategy under review
India, in the last 24 hours, did a record 8,99,864 tests and the officials said that the current status of resources — such as testing kits and so on — is comfortable, with most of it coming from indigenous companies.
Replying to a question from ThePrint on why testing is not being made voluntary for those who are willing to pay for it, Dr Paul said, “We will review this. It is practically on demand anyway. The broader purpose is to ensure that resources are used for the best purpose to avoid frivolous testing. But, we will review the testing strategy after looking at the capacity we currently have.”
On a question about whether there is a move to review use of tocilizumab (monoclonal antibodies that control the body’s inflammatory response), Dr Paul said that all the clinical treatment protocol was drawn up based on the scientific evidence available at the time.
“All medicines that are part of national protocol are included based on scientific evidence available on that day. In the ICMR task force, emerging evidence is taken into account for any drug. This is a dynamic process.”
Both the officials, who are members of the expert group constituted on Covid vaccines, reiterated that there are three vaccines currently in clinical trials in the country.
Two of them — by Bharat Biotech and Zydus Cadilla — are in phases I and II.
“The third (the Oxford vaccines by Serum Institute) is about to go into phase III trials. I would not like to commit on a timeline … I would say wait and watch because phase III trials are a long process. But, please don’t assume that any vaccine that goes into trial will be successful. Not all vaccines are. That is why we want to … continue with the current strategies,” Dr Paul said.
Bhushan said that since July, when exports were opened, India has exported about 40 lakh PPEs to the UK, USA, UAE, Senegal etc.
Dr Paul also declined to comment about reports from Malaysia about a far deadlier strain of SARS-CoV-2 having been detected in an Indian person.
“We have also read the reports,” he replied.