Coronavirus: India has reported over 1.18 crore Covid cases since December 2019 (File)

New Delhi:

The Union Health Secretary on Saturday chaired a high-level meeting with 12 states and union territories – including Maharashtra, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Bengal, Karnataka, Punjab and Delhi – to discuss the spike in Covid cases.

At the meeting a five-step strategy – “exponential increase in testing, effective isolation and contact tracing, re-invigoration of healthcare workers (to counter fatigue after spending the past year fighting the virus and treating patients) ensuring the public follows Covid protocols, and targeted approach to vaccination” – was introduced to help deal with the increase in cases.

Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan told states and UTs present that 46 “high-burden districts” had been identified and advised them to focus on “stringent containment and public health measures”.

States and UTs were told these 46 districts had contributed 71 per cent of all new Covid cases (and 69 per cent of all deaths) this month. Mr Bhushan also said that of the 36 districts in Maharashtra – the worst-affected state – 25 accounted for 59.8 per cent of all new cases in the past week.

As part of renewed efforts to contain the virus, states and UTs were told to increase testing but increase the share of the more reliable RT-PCR kits to 70 per cent of all tests.

They were also asked to ensure effective isolation of positive cases and prompt tracing of contacts – “… an average of 30 close contacts are traced, tested and isolated in the first 72 hours.”

Efforts to counter fatigue among frontline and healthcare workers – who have been battling the pandemic for over a year now – were also discussed.

The results of a study on public compliance to Covid protocols was tabled; the study revealed that only 44 per cent of the people wear face masks when in public. In line with this fact, states and UTs were urged to ensure people followed all Covid-appropriate behaviour, particularly in public.

This morning over 62,000 new coronavirus cases were reported across the country in the preceding 24 hours – a 5.3 per cent increase from Friday and the biggest single-day spike in five months.

Maharashtra accounted for over half of these – nearly 37,000 cases. Other states to report high daily figures were Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Chhattisgarh. Delhi logged over 1,500 cases for a second straight day. Gujarat and Haryana both saw over 2,000 cases and Punjab over 3,000.

On Friday the Health Ministry rushed teams of medical experts to Chandigarh and Chhattisgarh to deal with increasing cases. A few days earlier teams were sent to Maharashtra and Punjab.

Concern over the surge in cases also comes as several states – particularly those seeing a spike now – are prepping for Assembly elections over the next few weeks. Bengal and Assam held the first phase of polls today, with Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry all set to vote on April 6.

Several major cities and states – Mumbai, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh among them – have also banned celebration of Holi and other forthcoming festivals in public spaces. Delhi and Mumbai have also announced random Covid testing of people in public areas.

The increase in cases also comes on the back of the discovery of a “double mutated” strain of the coronavirus, in addition to other mutated versions. The government has said it is too early to confirm if the spike is because of the mutated strains.

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