Easing of lockdown combined with pandemic fatigue, lack of community adherence to COVID-appropriate behavior, and circulation of more transmissible variants of SARS-CoV-2 can be attributed to the surge in new cases in some states and union territories, the Lok Sabha was informed on Friday.
In a written reply, Minister of State for Health Bharati Pravin Pawar said, according to the WHO, there is some evidence to indicate higher transmissibility for cases infected with variants of SARS-CoV-2 like Delta and Delta plus.
"The ministry of health after expert deliberations has concluded that the existing clinical management protocol for managing COVID-19 cases suffices for treatment of cases infected with variants of COVID-19 and doesn''t warrant any change,” Pawar said.
"Easing of lockdown combined with pandemic fatigue, lack of community adherence to COVID appropriate behavior and evolution and circulation of more transmissible variants of SARS-CoV-2 viruses can be attributed for the surge in Coronavirus cases in some states and UTs," the minister said.
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A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
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Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
Pawar was responding to a question on whether new strains like Delta plus and Lambda are more infectious and the reasons for the recent surge in coronavirus cases in some states and UTs including Kerala, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Manipur.
Elaborating on the steps taken by the government for urgent control and containment measures of the disease, Pawar said, although health is a state subject, the Union government has provided the required technical support and also provided logistic and financial support to the states to further strengthen the existing health infrastructure to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
A three-tier arrangement of dedicated COVID-19 health facilities [(i) COVID Care Center (CCC); (ii) Dedicated Covid Health Centre (DCHC) and (iii) Dedicated COVID Hospital (DCH)] has been implemented in the country to reduce the risk of cross infection to non-COVID patients as well as to maintain continuity of non-COVID essential health services in the country, Pawar said.
The central government has roped in tertiary care hospitals under other ministries to supplement the hospital facilities.
Further, many large temporary treatment facilities were established by the DRDO to manage the surge in COVID-19 cases in the country, the minister said.
The isolation bed capacity and ICU bed capacity was also enhanced continuously, Pawar said.
The daily liquid medical oxygen (LMO) supply was increased by enhancement of LMO production in steel as well as other plants.
Further, restrictions were also imposed on industrial use of oxygen, the minister said.
Online digital solutions like Oxygen Demand Aggregation system (ODAS) and Oxygen Digital Tracking System (ODTS) have been developed to ascertain the demand for medical oxygen from all medical facilities and to track their transportation, Pawar said.
To avoid wastage of medical oxygen, guidelines on rational use of the life-saving gas were issued on September 25, 2020, and further revised and disseminated to states on April 25, 2021, the reply stated.
To generate oxygen at the health facility level, PSA plants are being established in each district hospital to reduce the burden on the medical oxygen supply grid across the country.
To fast-track the availability of medical oxygen in rural and peri-urban areas, more than 39,000 oxygen concentrators have been allocated to various states, Pawar said.
A COVID Drugs Management Cell (CDMC) has been set up in the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) to oversee the management of smooth supply of drugs used in COVID-19 management, the minister said.
Action is initiated at the national level to augment production of critical drugs including import besides support in terms of equitable distribution of the critical supplies, Pawar said.
All the states and UTs and state drugs controllers have been requested to verify stock of drugs and check other malpractices and take effective steps to curb hoarding and black marketing of Remdesivir, a key medicine in COVID-19 treatment.
Under the National COVID Vaccination Programme, the Union government is procuring vaccines and providing them free of cost to states and UTs.
As on July 25, a total of about 44.91 crore doses have been supplied to the states and UTs from all sources.
The Union government has provided financial support to the states and UTs for ramping up health infrastructure and all aspects of management of COVID-19.
Providing details of the efficacy of the vaccine available in the country in fighting the existing and new strains of coronavirus, the minister said, the ICMR-NIV has conducted in-vitro laboratory assays to determine the neutralisation potential of variant strains of SARS-CoV-2 in comparison to the standard strain with D614G mutation.
Similar studies have also been done by other laboratories across the world.
As far as data of in-vitro laboratory neutralisation assays is concerned, in case of Alpha variant, the baseline titers of neutralising antibodies are high in both Covishield and Covaxin.
In case of the Delta variant, the baseline titres of neutralising antibodies are very high in Covishield and significantly high in Covaxin.
These are sufficient to neutralise the delta variant strain, the reply stated.Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.