India has case clusters, not community spread: WHO clarifies error

Earlier in the day, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan cleared that air in a meeting with diplomats and said “so far there is no community transmission” in the country

community transmission, local transmission, coronavirus, COVID-19, World Health Organisation
According to the health ministry, as of Friday (April 10) afternoon, the country has recorded 6,412 positive cases of COVID-19 as the death toll stands at 199 with 33 deaths being reported in the last 24 hours. Photo: iStock

In its recent situation report, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared India to have reached the stage of community transmission of the coronavirus spread. However, it clarified that there was an error in the report and it has been fixed.

The WHO told NDTV, that India has a cluster of cases and does not fall under stage three of community transmission.

In the report, the WHO placed India under the ‘community transmission band’ whereas China was seen as a part of the ‘cluster of cases’ category of COVID-19 which has claimed over 95,000 lives and infected more than 1.6 million people globally.

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Even as the country has witnessed a sudden spike in the number of deaths and positive coronavirus cases, in the backdrop of the situation report, the Union Health Ministry firmly denied the claim of India being in Stage 3 or having community transmission.

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According to the health ministry, as of Friday (April 10) afternoon, the country has recorded 6,412 positive cases of COVID-19 as the death toll stands at 199 with 33 deaths being reported in the last 24 hours.

Meanwhile, experts feel that the mandatory 21-day countrywide lockdown imposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 in a bid to curb the spreading of the novel coronavirus, has helped slow the local transmission of the infection.

Earlier in the day, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan cleared that air in a meeting with diplomats and said “so far there is no community transmission” in the country.

Of the 600 districts, about 400 are unaffected by the highly contagious coronavirus and 133 districts are hotspots.

As the news of ‘pneumonia with unknown cause’ gripping China was informed to the WHO marks its 100th day, the world body classified the transmission situations — no confirmed cases, sporadic cases, cluster of cases, and community transmission — as mostly being “self-reported” by Member States.

In the daily press briefings, Lav Aggarwal, joint secretary, health ministry, recently said, “We can consider that we are in the community transmission stage only when there are about 20 to 30 per cent cases with no clue on how they got the virus. If India enters that stage, we will not hide it.”

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The WHO defines community transmission or Stage 3 when a country experiences outbreaks via local transmission in a number larger than expected including a massive number of cases which are not linked to a transmission chain or cluster of cases in hotspots or other areas.

Meanwhile, a study released on Thursday (April 9) by the Indian Journal of Medical Research, stated that, from as early as March 22nd, there was evidence for community transmission or cases of those testing positive who had no contact with a COVID-19 infected person who had a travel history.

Even as the IMJR study was authored by several scientists from the Indian Council of Medical Research, including its head Balram Bhargava, the apex medical body along with the health ministry continues to stay put on its statement of no community transmission in the country.

Following the sudden surge in cases in the past week with numbers growing at about 500 active cases per day, the ICMR, health ministry and the states have stepped up their testing and surveillance methods, including the revision of testing protocols.

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Ahead of the prime minister imposing the nationwide lockdown, on March 21, the ICMR revised its testing strategy and said it will check those who showed symptoms of the coronavirus and had an international travel history, their contacts and healthcare professionals who are treating patients with Severe Acute Respiratory Illness (SARI-a syndrome of COVID-19).

“When the COVID testing strategy was expanded to include all SARI patients, a total of 4,946 samples yielded 102 (2.1%) cases. The positivity increased from zero during the initial weeks to 2.6% in the 14th week,” the study noted, adding that about 102 of these cases were samples collected between March 22 to April 2.

“Of the 102 COVID-19 positive SARI patients, 40 (39.2%) did not report any history of contact or international travel and only two samples from February 15 to March 20 later tested positive,” the study pointed out.

“Tracking the spread of COVID-19 is critical to inform response activities, including testing, containment and mitigation measures. The current SARI testing strategy will complement and strengthen the routine COVID-19 surveillance activities,” the study added.

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