There is currently no specific drug or vaccine for COVID-19 and while the pandemic is progressing rapidly, vaccine development is taking time, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Director General Dr. Balram Bhargava said at a press conference on Tuesday. He emphasised that social distancing and hygiene continue to be the best protection against the virus.
And the Union Health Ministry said the country had now registered its lowest COVID-19 case fatality rate at 2.10 %, with 50% deaths registered in the age group of 60 or above and 37% in the 45-60 age group.
Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said, “While COVID-19 has spread to newer areas, India’s current caseload of 66% is from 50 districts and 82% cases is limited to 10 States. In the last 24 hours, 0.27% of the total active cases are on ventilators across the country and at no point did we reach the 1% mark of patients using ventilators. Currently, we are not concerned about under-reporting of COVID-19 deaths as the Ministry had issued written guidelines about deaths that should be categorized as COVID deaths. India now has 5,86,298 active COVID-19 cases with over 12 lakh recoveries’’. India had done over 2 crore tests, which included both RT-PCR and Rapid Antigen tests.
The cumulative positivity of the country was now 8.89% and the States with positivity less than 10% were Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Assam, West Bengal and Karnataka. “Last week’s positivity of India was 11%, which means a few States are showing a rise in COVID-19 cases,’’ he observed.
Speaking about the progress India had made in terms of making ventilators, he said that in 2019, the Indian ventilator market was roughly estimated as 8,510 units, valued at ₹444.74 crore. “Today, we find ourselves in a comfortable position on ventilators and currently 96% ventilators being procured are indigenous. Also, of the 60,000 ventilators procured 50,000 were funded by the PM-Cares Fund, which comes to about 2000 crore,’’ he pointed out.
Dr. Bhargava said States have been asked to enhance their number of tests, analyse their data and mount a response that was appropriate. Many States have increased their testing capacity, both RT-PCR and Rapid Antigen tests, with several performing more than 140 tests a day a million population. “Goa, Delhi, Tripura and Tamil Nadu have increased their testing capacity,’’ he noted.
When asked about the possible mutation of the virus, Dr. Bhargava said that all three strains of SARS-CoV2 in circulation were very similar and very minor mutations seem to have happened. “Typically, a virus takes 10-50 years to majorly mutate. As for the sero survey results, we are hopeful that it will be peer reviewed and published in a couple of weeks in the Indian Journal of Medical Research,’’ he added.
Giving details of vaccine development across the world, Dr. Bhargava said 141 vaccine candidates were under consideration, with 26 of these under clinical trials.
“At the present moment, in India, we have three vaccines that are in different phases of clinical testing. Two indigenous ones – the Bharat Biotech vaccine and the DNA vaccine of Zydus Cadila have completed phase 1 and will begin phase 2, while the Oxford vaccine is in phase 2 and 3 currently,’’ he stated.