At 3.8 cases per million, India's infection rate remains quite low: Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan

NEW DELHI: Social distancing and confinement are powerful social vaccines against the Covid-19 pandemic that has engulfed more than 200 countries, the minister said Thursday, detailing the government's focus on 133 critical districts as a critical component of a concerted containment strategy.

I can confidently affirm that, in terms of data or statistics on Covid-19, India is much better placed than any other country, said the minister, speaking to an international online conference on Covid-19 organized by. He added that India has reported a fairly low infection rate at 3.8 cases per million, compared to much higher percentages in most other countries.

Currently, cases double every 4.5 days, and most districts in the country are not affected, Vardhan said.

Social distancing can push back disease : Minister

Stressing on social distancing, he said a vaccine shot (whenever it becomes available) could save one individual at a time but a “social vaccine” would help rescue whole populations and push back a disease that was a unique challenge to the entire world.

The 133-district focus was on an aggressive containment strategy divided into addressing large outbreaks and conglomerate containment, he said. The goal was to eliminate the infection in areas where it had gained ground and was a threat in terms of larger transmission. While there was a strong focus on hotspots, India had an effective monitoring system with more than seven lakh people under rigorous surveillance, he added.

The minister also urged the country to stay united with front-line health workers who were working despite the risk of becoming infected. He asked people to name and shame those who misbehaved or attacked health workers, doctors, or nurses. He said such incidents were painful and should be condemned by everyone.

Vardhan said surveillance had been key from the start when India's case zero, a medical student who returned from Wuhan, was tracked down to find 162 contacts, including people close during flights and train travel. Active contact tracking and a surveillance mechanism developed over the years was used to break the chain of transmission for foreign travelers, he said.

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The government took proactive measures that included active screening, community policing, capacity building for ASHA workers and improving health infrastructure that helped India reduce the infection rate, he said. It also issued various notices, including those for travel, testing and even wearing masks. These warnings were revised from time to time to update them according to the evolving scenario, he said.

“We are closely monitoring everything that happens in other countries and even within the country. The situation is being regularly reviewed and monitored at the highest level of government, by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Secretary along with others such as the group of ministers led by me, Vardhan said.

He said India ’s response was proactive so far and proper observance of lockdown and implementation of social distancing was the way to combat the disease . The minister also assured that the government had made adequate arrangements for oxygen support, ventilators, isolation beds and ICU facilities even though 85% of cases were very mild or mild and would not require such facilities.