New Delhi: In his meeting with state chief secretaries Friday, Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba underlined the seriousness of the current Covid-19 situation in the country several times over, ThePrint has learnt.
On a day when the daily positives in the country jumped by over 12 per cent in 24 hours — to 81,466 Friday from 72,330 Thursday — Gauba peppered his interventions with expressions such as “scary scenario”, “at the brink of a very bad situation” and “very very alarming deterioration” to underline that states need to step up contact tracing and containment even as vaccinations continue.
Officials present in the meeting told ThePrint that Gauba also talked about how the “situation deteriorated rapidly over the last week” and that the country is “staring at a grim situation” unless immediate steps are taken to contain the damage.
During the first wave, India’s highest daily Covid-19 positive number was 97,894 on 17 September 2020. The country had reached that stage over a period of six and half months beginning March 2020.
The current wave, which started in March 2021, has already seen daily positives come within touching distance of that milestone.
The cabinet secretary, sources said, pointed out that the current Covid-19 case growth rate of 6.8 per cent in March 2021 has surpassed the previous record of 5.5 per cent (June 2020). The country has also reported a 5.5 per cent growth rate in daily Covid-19 deaths in this period.
11 states are ‘of grave concern’
There was particular focus on 11 states in the meeting, of which three — Maharashtra, Punjab and Chhattisgarh — were dubbed as the most concerning, officials present in the meeting said.
The cabinet secretary, officials said, flagged the issue that among these 11 states, barring Karnataka and Delhi, there was little enforcement of Covid-19 appropriate behaviour. “In all these states, the number of people fined for mass violation or assembly is down,” an official said.
The other “in focus” states in the meeting were Kerala, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, and the union territory of Chandigarh.
“Chhattisgarh has mostly been under the radar but the situation there is grim. For the last few days, they have been reporting more deaths than states such as Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Rajasthan,” an official present in the meeting said. “The mining areas of Chhattisgarh have seen the worst outbreaks though the disease has not yet spread to places like Jhabua and Bastar. Their RT PCR testing capacity is also low — they are doing just about 6,000 a day.”
On 1 April, the state had conducted a total of 40,857 tests.
Sources also said that the Maharashtra Chief Secretary Sitaram Khunte was “candid in his admission that the state had let its guard down but now has a plan in place to bring the situation under control”.
‘Need to curtail Government of India events’
Karnataka Chief Secretary P. Ravi Kumar, sources said, flagged the issue of gatherings being organised under the Azadi Ka Amrut Mahotsav — the government-backed celebration of 75 years of Indian independence.
According to officials present in the meeting, he pointed out that states are required to give clippings of these events and give reports of how many people attended while there are clear problems in Covid-19 management during congregations.
“He was told that it is entirely within the state’s purview to do so based on the emergent situation there,” an official said.
Many states including Delhi and Chhattisgarh highlighted the need to ramp up vaccinations. The latter also asked for more vaccines from the Centre.
“They were told that vaccines are not a magic bullet that would do away with the need to do contact tracing, containment etc,” said a source who was present in the meeting.
Spreading to Tier 2, Tier 3 cities: Govt
In a statement issued after the meeting, the central government said that the outbreak is now spreading to Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities.
“Another worrisome aspect pointed out was that Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities along with peri-urban areas have recorded the recent high rise in Covid cases; the spread of infection from these areas to the rural areas with weak health infrastructure would overwhelm the local administration was also highlighted,” the statement said.
States have now been asked to draw up a time-bound plan to ensure 100 per cent vaccination of eligible healthcare workers, frontline workers and eligible age groups, and undertake daily review of consumption from each cold chain point at their level.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)