Explained: Why PM flagged photos of crowds, warned against letting guard COVID guard down


The prime minister reportedly said at the first meeting of his new Cabinet that the sight of crowds, mainly at tourist destinations, should instill ‘a sense of fear’ in people

Union Health Ministry briefing with a grab of crowds at Kempty Falls in Uttarakhand. News18

Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly said at the first meeting of his new team of ministers that the sight of crowds, mainly at tourist destinations, should instill “a sense of fear” in people given that the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over.

The rise of new variants and the threat they hold of sparking a third wave suggests that it isn’t time yet to lower our guards. The need for vigilance was echoed by the latest COVID-19 report from the Union health ministry, which noted that the country had seen the active caseload jump slightly after witnessing a downward slope for nearly 55 days. So, where are the cases rising, and what is the news on new variants.

What is the latest on India’s COVID-19 caseload?

The health ministry on 8 July said that, after clocking a consistent decline, the count of active cases in India increased for the first time in 55 days. As for the daily cases, the tally was at 45,892, the ministry said. Active cases now make up 1.5 percent of total cases while the recovery rate is more than 97 percent.

Further, it was also reported that the weekly test positivity rate was 2.37 percent, well below the 5 percent threshold while the daily positivity rate had been less than 3 percent for 17 consecutive days.

But at the meeting with his new ministerial colleagues, the prime minister had raised concerns over the rise of cases in Kerala and Maharashtra. Last week, the Centre had dispatched teams to six states – Kerala, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Manipu.

What are the case numbers in Kerala, Maharashtra?

Since 9 June, Kerala has reported more than 10,000 new cases (7-day rolling average) daily on all but a handful of days. During the same period, the country halved its daily reported case load, from above 90,000 to under 45,000. While Kerala was adding significantly higher numbers in May, it has not registered the same sort of decline as have the other states that too were affected during the peak of second wave.

Maharashtra had a series of 60,000+ plus new infection days in April and has seen its case load come down considerably since then. However, the state has been adding more than 8,000 daily cases (7-day rolling average) over the last 30 days.

Reports suggest that the persistently high numbers in Kerala can be partially explained by better surveillance and testing, something that can be said for Maharshtra as well, but given the rise of new variants, some experts are worried whether what is being regarded as the decline of the second wave is not actually the beginnings of the third.

Are there other variants that have been found in India?

On 9 July, Uttar Pradesh said it had identified two cases of the Kappa variant in the state following genome sequencing of samples. This variant, which is an offshoot of the Delta variant, too, was first identified in India but is designated as a ‘Variant of Interest’ (VoI) by the World Health Organisation (WHO), whereas the Delta variant has, of course, been billed as a Variant of Concern (VoC).

A VoC is so called because, among other things, it exhibits “increase in transmissibility” and “decrease in effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics”. A VoI demonstrates “genetic changes that are predicted or known to affect virus characteristics such as transmissibility, disease severity, immune escape, diagnostic or therapeutic escape”.

A variant gets a VoI branding if it has been “identified to cause significant community transmission or multiple COVID-19 clusters, in multiple countries with increasing relative prevalence alongside increasing number of cases over time to suggest an emerging risk to global public health.”

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