The rising number of COVID-19 cases over the past few weeks has led India to up its guard against the virus once again. On Thursday, India reported 754 new cases in a single 24-hour period, the highest fresh caseload in four months. The total number of active cases — those who have not yet recovered and are still capable of spreading the virus — now stands at 4,623.
The INSACOG lab, which monitors the genomic sequencing of the COVID virus, has sequenced the samples emerging from new cases and identified XBB.1.16, a fast spreading variant belonging to XBB.1 family. “Between January 1 to March 14, 40 genome sequences of XBB.1.16 have been reported from Maharashtra,” INSACOG said.
India reported 2,082 new cases in the week ending March 8, which rose to 3,264 cases in the week ending March 15.
On Thursday, the Union Health Ministry shot off a letter to six States — Maharashtra, Gujarat, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka — where an uptick of Covid-19 cases has been observed.
“There are a few States which are reporting higher number of cases indicating a possible localised spread of infection and there is a need to follow a risk assessment-based approach to prevent and contain the infection, without losing the gains made so far in the fight against the pandemic,” Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said, in the letter.
The situation is most serious in Karnataka and Kerala, with the States recording a positivity rate of 2.77% and 2.64% respectively, far higher than India’s average positivity rate of 0.61%. The positivity rate is the percentage of people who test positive for the virus among all those tested.
One death reported
Karnataka has reported an increase in new weekly cases from 493 in the week ending March 8 to 604 a week later. Cases in Kerala rose from 434 to 579 during the same period. The overall death toll has reached 5,30,790, with one death reported in Karnataka on Thursday.
Maharashtra reported an increase in new cases from 355 in the week ending March 8 to 668 a week later, by which time the positivity rate had hit 1.92%. The majority of these cases are being reported from Pune, Mumbai and Thane.
In Gujarat, most cases are concentrated in Ahmedabad and Vadodara, though the towns of Surat, Rajkot, Mahesana, Bhavnagar and Amreli have also seen a rise in infections. The State reported an increase in new weekly cases from 105 in the first week of March 8 to 279 in the second week. At least 26 genome sequences from samples in Gujarat were identified as the XBB.1.16 variant.
In Telangana, most cases have been reported from Hyderabad district, the letter said.
The Union Health Ministry has instructed the States to examine the COVID-19 situation at a micro level — from a district and sub-district perspective — and adopt a strategy of testing, tracking, treating and vaccination.
The strategy should include adequate and proactive testing and monitoring of the new and emerging infection clusters, the Ministry said. All influenza-like illnesses and Severe Acute Respiratory Infection cases should be monitored through dedicated fever clinics. Also, genomic sequencing for prescribed samples of international passengers, collection of samples from sentinel sites and local clusters should be carried out. Social distancing and masking is advised in crowded or enclosed spaces.
India has reported 4.46 crore COVID cases since the start of the pandemic in 2019.