New Delhi: After Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan’s denial, once again Thursday, that there is no community transmission of Covid-19, the health ministry has taken down a document from its website that claimed India started seeing limited community spread in April.
ThePrint reported about the document earlier this week. The document was uploaded on the website on 4 July. The ministry had also posted the link of the document on Twitter on 5 July, but it no longer works.
#CoronaVirusUpdates#IndiaFightsCorona@MoHFW_INDIA issues Guidance for General Medical and Specialised Mental Health Care Settings. https://t.co/7inUW5PpZB@PMOIndia @drharshvardhan @AshwiniKChoubey @PIB_India @DDNewslive @airnewsalerts @COVIDNewsByMIB @CovidIndiaSeva
— Ministry of Health (@MoHFW_INDIA) July 5, 2020
On Thursday night, a new document on ‘Guidance for General Medical and Specialised Mental Health Care Settings’ was uploaded and the paragraph that mentioned about the community transmission has been deleted from it.
The deleted paragraph in the chapter, titled ‘The Covid-19 Pandemic and Mental Health — An Introduction’, read: “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.”
Apart from removing this paragraph, nothing has been changed in the new document that was drawn up by the department of psychiatry, NIMHANS.
A senior health ministry official said: “A mistake was made and has now been rectified. There is nothing else in this.”
Community transmission vs localised outbreaks
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) definition, community transmission is said to have happened 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.”
On Thursday, during a government briefing on Covid-19, Rajesh Bhushan, Officer-in-Special-Duty (OSD) in the Ministry of Health, claimed India is not in community transmission, but is seeing “localised outbreaks” in some geographies.
The term localised outbreaks in the context of Covid is poorly defined. Bhushan too sidestepped a definition and said “even WHO does not define it”.
He claimed the fact that 80 per cent of the Covid cases in the country are concentrated in 49 districts shows that there is no community transmission yet.
Eight states (Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat) contribute to around 90 per cent of the active caseload, according to the government data.
Moreover, six states (Maharashtra, Delhi, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal) account for 86 per cent of the total deaths, and 32 districts account for 80 per cent of the deaths, said Bhushan.
‘Community spread may be happening in hotspots’
Senior government officials, who didn’t want to be named, told ThePrint that community transmission does seem to be happening, at least in limited areas such as the hotspots.
Some have even put on record, in internal government meetings, their conviction that given the stage of transmission and the high costs of RT-PCR tests, India should start getting choosy about who to test. But not many in the government agreed with that argument, according to the officials.
“It is perhaps not correct to say that there is no community transmission anywhere at all. Yes, there is no countrywide community transmission, that we can say with a fair amount of certainty. But it is almost as certain that at least in some high-burden districts there is some amount of community transmission happening,” said a senior health ministry official.
“I would say it is happening in some parts of Delhi as well. But there is concern that announcing it would create even more panic than there already is.”
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