Coronavirus: India 'flattens the curve'; COVID-19 growth now 'linear'
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Thursday said that India has flattened the curve of the coronavirus outbreak. Data shared by the Centre at a press briefing revealed that the outbreak is growing at a linear rate of 4.5%, as opposed to an exponential fashion. It also detailed the measures taken to combat COVID-19 in the past 30 days of India's lockdown.
Environment Secretary CK Mishra said on Thursday that the growth of the outbreak has been linear on an average, and not exponential. Mishra is also the Chairperson of the Empowered Group-2, one of the 11 Empowered Groups set up by the government to combat COVID-19. Mishra said, "In these 30 days (since the lockdown was imposed), we remained more or less stable."
When asked when the COVID-19 outbreak would peak in India, ICMR Director General Balram Bhargava said it was difficult to predict that. However, he added, "You can say that we have been able to flatten the curve."
During the lockdown, Mishra said, India has been able to minimize the spread of COVID-19 by cutting transmission, ramp up testing, and "over-prepare" if the outbreak happens to worsen in the future. He said, till March 23, India had conducted 14,915 tests, which rose to five lakh by April 22. "We are conscious of the fact that this is not enough," Mishra said.
Bhargava said that initially, only the National Institute of Virology in Pune was conducting confirmatory tests for COVID-19. When the lockdown started, 100 labs were testing, he said, adding that now 325 government and private labs are conducting tests for the disease.
Mishra pointed out that India has reported over 20,000 cases when it has conducted five lakh tests. Comparatively, when the United States had conducted five lakh tests by March 26, it had reported roughly 80,000 cases, Mishra said. Similarly, Italy reported 1 lakh cases with five lakh tests, the United Kingdom had reported 1.2 lakh cases, and Turkey had reported 80,000 cases, he added.
Comparing India's confirmation rate of new cases since the 400th COVID-19 case against countries such as the US, the UK, Italy, and South Korea, Mishra said India performed better. He conceded, "Of course, there are other countries that have done better, such as South Korea."
Mishra said that the lockdown period has been "gainfully utilized to review, assess, and ramp up hospital capacities." "Currently, our hospitals are not overwhelmed. But the preparation has to be of a much higher order," he said. India has 3,773 COVID-19 healthcare facilities split between 736 COVID hospitals, 1,297 COVID Health Centers, and 1,741 COVID Care Centers.
Data shared during the briefing revealed that India has a total of 1.94 lakh isolation beds for severe and critical cases, over 24,000 ICU (intensive care unit) beds, over 12,300 ventilators, and 1.67 lakh isolation beds in Care Centers.
All India Institute Of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Director Randeep Guleria also blamed stigmatization to a degree for increased mortality. He said recovered patients should be a symbol of hope, but they have unfortunately been stigmatized by the society. This stigmatization is keeping people from coming forward to report their symptoms and get tested until it is too late, Guleria said.
Guleria said, "Consider the stress and strain the whole family goes through. You're isolated for 14 days at a quarantine facility where you see people wearing PPEs treating you. You can't meet your family members for 14 days because you're isolated." He added, "Instead of sympathizing with these people, we have created an environment of fear and panic which is not justified."
On a positive note, Guleria also said that a large number of cured patients have come forward to donate blood for plasma therapy. He said that drugs such as hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin are being looked at as treatment strategies, along with other repurposed drugs.
Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said 78 affected districts across India have not reported any new cases in over 14 days, including 12 that haven't reported new cases in over 28 days. The 12 districts include: Mahe (Puducherry), Kodagu (Karnataka), Pauri-Garhwal (Uttarakhand), Pratapgarh (Rajasthan), Chitrakoot (Karnataka), Bilaspur (Chhattisgarh), Imphal-West (Manipur), Aizwal-West (Mizoram), Bhadradri Kothagudem (Telangana), Pilibhit (UP), SBS Nagar (Punjab), South Goa (Goa).