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Battling Coronavirus: Has Phase III (Community Transmission) Begun In India?


31 March 2020

Sangita Agarwal


Bhubaneswar: Amid the 21-day lockdown in India, the numbers of Covid-19 patients are increasing, which has become a cause of worry and fear for the Indians. Though there is no official update on whether we have entered the Community Transmission stage of Covid-19, the surging figures are not a positive sign.

In the last 24 hours, the figures of infected persons and deaths have increased at a very fast pace. India saw one of the sharpest spikes as 227 people tested positive in a single day, taking the country's total to 1,400 with 47 deaths by Tuesday noon. These continuously increasing numbers are posing a serious question on the claims of the government.

According to a Union Health Ministry document released earlier, there are indications that the country could be entering the third phase of Limited community transmission of the COVID-19 but it can be termed as limited community transmission (a report published on a leading National daily on Tuesday stated). 

But a press conference on Monday afternoon, the health ministry, however, reiterated that COVID-19 in India technically is still in local transmission stage and that there has been no community transmission so far. 

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), tasked with containing the epidemic, has publicly maintained that India is still in Stage II, despite the number of cases of people with no known contact to an infected person or travel history rising over the past week.

The Centre has pulled up all its strings to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. In these times, misleading claims and news can actually create more panic and disturbance in the country. 

The Press Information Bureau fact-checking unit PIB Fact Check has tweeted the following to categorically falsify the claims.

“Please don’t fall for a report claiming India has entered State 3 – i.e. community transmission of #Covid19. Claims made are misleading and scaremongering. Various measures of social distancing being practised and implemented are crucial to fighting #covid19,” it tweeted.

Situation in India

 It is true that the pandemic is expanding its footprints in India. The spike has risen rapidly over the past week, raising alarm over the ability of India, with its fragile health-care system and battered economy, to handle a virus crisis of the magnitude of China or Italy’s. 

The country reported its first case on January 30, but authorities insisted that cases were one-offs and no local transmission was taking place. Over time as the nation entered Stage II, a 21-day nation-wide lockdown was imposed so that there will be no Stage III situation.

Though India has reached in the 41 position globally in terms of infection, it is indeed very difficult to contain this rapidly growing pandemic in such a densely populated country where many people are yet to grapple the intensity of the situation.

In USA, there are around 65,000 tests done daily on a random basis whereas, in India, only 35,000 tests have been conducted as of Sunday, according to data from the Indian Council of Medical Research. Lack of healthcare infrastructure, medical kits, and the presence of ‘covidiots’ in the country have increased the possibility of entering the third phase more quickly. Moreover, COVID-19 being an asymptomatic disease is making the task all the more difficult.

The change in season in India has posed health hazards and flu-like tendencies develop during these times. But, panic is highly discouraged at this point in time. India has to tread very cautiously and carefully with its fragile health care system and battered economy, to handle a crisis of this kind. 

When PM Modi announced a quarantine situation for the second-most populous country in this world even as the numbers were in hundreds, it was one of the quickest measures any country had taken. But it had unintended consequences, clearly not foreseen by any. The mass exodus of migrant labourers started creating major health hazards in these conditions. 

Situation In Odisha

In Odisha, the government has tested 130 samples till now out of which 3 have tested positive. The State government’s chief spokesperson Mr Subroto Bagchi has said in a press conference that we are heading towards Phase III after the detection of patient no-3 in the State, but the numbers have not increased in the State till the latest reports dropped in. 

Talking to OMMCOM NEWS, a leading medical practitioner of Bhubaneswar, Dr Indramani Jena said, “Though we are moving towards Phase III as can be known by the third patient detected in the State, one can safely assume that the pandemic is not yet widespread. If it were so, there would have been reports of death from all around in the State (of pneumonia) as testing is not done. But there are no such reports till now, not even in Capital Hospital of Bhubaneswar. The social distancing and isolation process is working, I suppose.”

What Should Be Done Now? 

In various parts of the country, there have been reports trickling in of people getting infected by community transmission. A group of at least 200 people from southeast Delhi’s Nizamuddin area were taken for Covid-19 testing Monday after seven people in the area tested positive two days ago and a few more complained of symptoms.

On March 10, there was a gathering organised by the Tableeghi Jamaat, where it had visitors from Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and Kyrgyzstan. The local residents may have been exposed to the deadly virus at that time. 

In Odisha, Patient No 3 had no travel history. There have been such cases in Kerala, Maharashtra, and Goa. These are cases of concern but not panic. The conditions in India will make the phase III come sooner (if it comes) but the golden rule of social distancing will defeat the virus, if followed stringently by one and all in this densely populated country.