New Delhi: A guidance document released last week by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare seems to have given out India’s best kept Covid-19 secret — it says that as early as April, community transmission had happened in India.
“At the time of this publication, in early April 2020, India is still at the stage of limited community spread and there is no idea how this pandemic will unfold. A large part of the psychological responses have so far been reactionary to what has happened in other countries in the world, fears of what might be in store in the times ahead and responses to the lockdown,” reads the document, titled ‘Guidance for General Medical and Specialised Mental Health Care Settings’ and released on 4 July.
Community spread, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, occurs when an illness spreads without the source of infection being known.
The statement in the guidance document is contrary to the official position of the government on community transmission.
On 11 June, in what was the last government briefing on Covid-19, while releasing the results of the first phase of the sero survey in 65 districts, Dr Balram Bharagava, DG of ICMR and secretary, Department of Health Research, had said: “For such a large country, the prevalence is so low, less than one per cent in smaller districts, slightly higher in cities and containment zones. So, India is definitely not in community transmission.”
The sero survey had found that about 0.73 per cent of the population had past exposure to the infection. “It means that lockdown measures were successful in keeping it low and preventing rapid spread,” Bhargava had said.
ThePrint reached the Ministry of Health spokesperson for a comment for this report, and was redirected to Nilambuj Sharan, economic adviser to the ministry who also looks after mental health. He declined to comment.
According to the World Health Organization’s definition, “community transmission” is said to occur in “countries/area/territories experiencing larger outbreaks of local transmission, defined through an assessment of factors including, but not limited to:
– Large numbers of cases not linkable to transmission chains
– Large numbers of cases from sentinel lab surveillance
– Multiple unrelated clusters in several areas of the country/territory/area.”
In other words, community transmission is said to have occurred when the health system has lost track of the mode of transmission of the virus and new infections can no longer be traced to a source.
It is a cause for worry because, theoretically, any person can catch the infection anywhere.
Although there have been cases in India that have not been traced to a source, the Government of India has been steadfast in its denial of community transmission over the last four months.
However, various states have accepted that community transmission may be happening, the latest being Karnataka Law Minister J.C. Madhuswamy, who expressed worry that there may be community spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Another govt document admits it
As early as 5 March, the health ministry had said in a statement: “Since, in addition to Covid-19 cases related to travel, some cases of community transmission have also been observed, it has been decided to involve district collectors and states have been asked to form rapid response teams as the district, block and village levels.”
This was the time when the first cluster of cases in India was reported in Agra, linked to two men who had travelled from Italy via Austria along with a resident of Delhi’s Mayur Vihar.
However, since then, the Government of India has diligently denied community transmission through all possible fora.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.