COVID-19 Showing Declining Trend in India, UN Agency preparing for Safe Delivery of Vaccine

Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Oct 20: Amidst contradictory predictions by various panels of experts about the future course the Coronavirus is likely to take in the world, India for the first time in three months recorded less than 50,000 new cases on Monday indicating that the pandemic may be on the declining stage.

Some experts, however, cautioned the administration against feeling contended over one day’s drop pointing out that marginal drops on Mondays had become a routine affair because the number of tests usually carried out on Sundays are generally less than the average tests conducted on the weekdays. This Sunday too, 8.59 lakh tests were carried out as against the normal range of 10 to 11 lakh tests every day in the working days.

But the authorities point out that despite fewer tests on Sundays, the drop in the number of cases on this Monday was much sharper than the previous weeks in the last three months indicating that the pandemic finally may be coming under control. Official sources said even when daily average tests were in the range of about eight lakhs before the country stepped up to a million tests a day, India was detecting over 60,000 cases per day.

As per the union health ministry data on Tuesday, the total COVID-19 tally went up 75.97 lakhs, the number of new coronavirus infections was recorded at 46,790 across the country, fewer than 47,703 recorded on July 28. The total deaths recorded in the last 24 hours at 587 was also showing marginally declining trend, the union health ministry data on Tuesday showed. There were 55,722 infections and 579 fatalities on Monday.

“India crosses Significant Milestones. The new confirmed cases have fallen below 50,000 (46,790) for the first time in nearly three months. The new cases were 47,703 on 28th July,” the health ministry tweeted.

According to the health ministry’s Covid-19 dashboard at 8 A.M. on Tuesday, the number of active cases has also dropped below the 800,000 mark at 748,538 for the fourth day in a row. India’s death toll has gone up to 115,197, it showed. There were 69,720 Covid-19 patients who recovered between Monday and Tuesday and the number of recovered is 6,733,328 across the country. The national recovery rate has gone up to 88.63%.

The health ministry said 75% of the new confirmed cases between Monday and Tuesday morning were from 10 states and Union territories. Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Kerala contributed more than 5,000 cases each. Of the 587 fatalities related to the coronavirus disease, which have been reported in the past 24 hours, nearly 81% are concentrated in 10 states and Union territories, the ministry said. The deaths reported have been below 600 for the second consecutive day on Tuesday.

The continuous decline in the number of new cases has meant that after two and half months India has stopped reporting the highest number of cases in the world. For the last three days, the United States, which is in the midst of a resurgence, has reported more new infections than India. There is a resurgence of cases in several European countries as well.

An expert member of the health ministry-appointed committee which had submitted its report on Saturday predicting that the pandemic may end in India by February, claimed on Tuesday that the “decline” of the pandemic had truly begun in India. He also disagreed that India too compulsorily would face a second wave. “But it was important for people to follow safety instructions, wear face masks and practice physical distancing. This was important all the more because the decline in numbers could lead to people becoming complacent,” the expert said. If India survived the festival season without too much increase in the numbers, there was hope for an early control over the epidemic, the expert said.

Even while noticing that India’s cumulative positivity rate had fallen below 8%, the World Health Organisation has also cautioned against slackening response actions following the recent slight decline in COVID-19 cases in the South-East Asia Region, saying the pandemic continues unabated and “our response only needs to be strengthened further to curtail virus transmission”.

The upcoming festival season and the approaching winter or cold season threatened to aggravate the situation “if we let our guard down,” Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region, said.

While the WHO was still skeptical about scientists and doctors coming out with a viable vaccine, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has started preparations for the delivery of the vaccine “as and when it appeared.” A UNICEF spokesman said it was stockpiling some 520 million syringes in its warehouses as part of a larger plan of one billion hypodermic needles by 2021, to guarantee initial supply and help ensure that syringes are available in countries before the COVID-19 vaccines arrive. The UN agency was also making arrangements for some five million “safety boxes” for safe disposal of syringes after use to avoid needle-infected infections and was lining up cold chain system for safe delivery of vaccines the world over, the spokesman said.

The agency said as soon as COVID-19 vaccines successfully emerge from trials and are licensed and recommended for use, the world will need as many syringes as doses of vaccine. The UNICEF anticipates delivering over one billion syringes to support COVID-19 vaccination efforts on top of the 620 million syringes that it would purchase for other vaccination programmes against other diseases such as measles, typhoid and more.

“Vaccinating the world against COVID-19 will be one of the largest mass undertakings in human history, and we will need to move as quickly as the vaccines can be produced,” a senior UNICEF official said.

“In order to move fast later, we must move fast now. By the end of the year, we will already have over half a billion syringes pre-positioned where they can be deployed quickly and cost effectively. That’s enough syringes to wrap around the world one and a half times,”

Besides syringes, UNICEF is also buying 5 million safety boxes so that used syringes and needles can be disposed of in a safe manner by personnel at health facilities, thus preventing the risk of needle stick injuries and blood borne diseases. Every safety box would carry 100 used syringes.

Every year, UNICEF provides vaccines for almost half of the world’s children and procures and supplies around 600-800 million syringes for regular immunisation programmes. COVID-19 vaccines will likely treble or quadruple that number, depending on the number of COVID-19 vaccines that are ultimately produced and secured by the UNICEF.

To make sure that vaccines are transported and stored at the right temperature, the UNICEF, along with WHO, is also mapping out existing cold chain equipment and storage capacity — in the private as well as public sector — and preparing necessary guidance for countries to receive vaccines.

“We are doing everything we can to deliver these essential supplies efficiently, effectively and at the right temperature, as we already do so well all over the world,” the official said.

According to the health ministry data, in India a total 67,33,328 people have recuperated from the disease so far pushing the national recovery rate to 88.63 percent while the case fatality rate due COVID-19 stands at 1.52 percent.

India’s COVID-19 tally had crossed the 20-lakh mark on 7 August, 30 lakh on 23 August and 40 lakh on 5 September. It went past 50 lakh on 16 September, 60 lakh on 28 September and crossed 70 lakh on 11 October.

According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), a cumulative total of 9,61,16,771 samples have been tested up to 19 October. At least 10,32,795 samples were tested on Monday alone.