Dr. Harsh Vardhan reviews Public Health Response to COVID-19 and Progress of Vaccination with West Bengal and the 8 States of the North-East

New Delhi: Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare today interacted with State Health Ministers and Principal Secretaries/ Additional Chief Secretaries of West Bengal and the 8 States of the North-eastern Region in the presence of Shri Ashwini Kumar Choubey, Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare. These states are depicting a higher growth rate in the number of daily cases, high mortality and increasing positivity rate.

 

 

 

Shri Biplab Kumar Deb, Chief Minister & Health Minister of Tripura, Shri Keshab Mahanta, Health Minister, Assam, Shri A.K Hek, Health Minister, Meghalaya, Shri LalpoklakpamJayantakumar Singh, Health Minister, Manipur, Dr R Lalthangliana, Health Minister (Mizoram), Shri AloLibang, Health Minister (Arunachal Pradesh), Shri PangnyuPhom, Health Minister (Nagaland) and Dr Mani Kumar Sharma, Health Minister (Sikkim) were present virtually in this meeting.

He applauded the dedication and patience shown by state administrations in their fight against the pandemic and in simultaneously ensuring the welfare of the people. He said that “we fought together in 2020 and will fight together in 2021 under the leadership of Hon’ble Prime Minister”.

Speaking of the government efforts that have resulted in this achievement, Dr. Harsh Vardhan outlined, “From having just 1 laboratory at the start of the pandemic, today there are over 2000 laboratories for testing COVID across the country. We have increased our capacity to test 25 lakh people daily. Yesterday, India achieved a historical first by testing the highest number of over 20 lakh people in a single day. This is a global record too”. He stressed on the continued need to follow COVID Appropriate Behaviour along with renewed and stringent focus on containment measures for addressing the present surge.

Underscoring the critical importance of vaccination drive, the Minister highlighted that India has achieved another landmark by crossing 18 cr doses recently. He thanked all the states and UTs for their contribution in achieving this feat. He also pointed out that, more than 1 crore doses are still in stock with the state governments. He added that “Between August to December 2021, India will have procured 216 crore vaccine doses while, by July this year, 51 crore doses will be procured”. Dr Harsh Vardhan also urged states to ensure that the healthcare workers and frontline workers are fully vaccinated, as they form the vulnerable categories. The Union Health Minister said that by the end of the year, the country will be in a position to vaccinate at least all of its adult population.

Dr Harsh Vardhan highlighted the critical challenges faced by the NE states and West Bengal: In Mizoram, all districts are showing a rise in new cases. Nagaland has shown a sharp increase in daily cases (15-20 per day to 300 per day) and weekly positivity rate (1% to 34%); there is a need to strengthen testing facilities in peri-urban and rural areas. In Assam, Kamrup (Metropolitan) is contributing almost 45% of the daily new cases, while in Meghalaya, East Khasi Hills and Righboi are reporting sharp increases in daily cases. Manipur’s recovery rate of 78% and CFR of more than 1% was highlighted as a matter of concern. Sikkim was advised to strengthen community surveillance and ensure strict monitoring of home quarantine to address its high CFR. In Arunachal Pradesh, ICU occupancy is almost 22.5% while Capital complex and Changlang districts are reporting maximum cases. All districts of West Bengal are showing a steep increase in positivity rate. Kolkata, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, Howrah and Nadia were flagged as districts of concern. In Tripura, there has been a steep rise in positivity from 1.3% in April to around 8.7% now. West Tripura, Unakoti, South Tripura were flagged as districts of concern.

Dr Harsh Vardhan pointed towards the new emerging trend in the country. He highlighted that now the smaller states are showing an upward trend and there is a need to be cautious about this trend. He asked the states to focus on increasing testing in a timely manner along with upgrading the health infrastructure. The Union Health Minister said that with changes in guidelines, more and more of antigen tests can be done now, so that mortality rates can be decreased.He reiterated the need to focus on peri urban and rural areas significantly.

Shri Ashwini Kumar Choubey, MOS (HFW) reiterated that testing should be increased, particularly RT-PCR. He stressed on the need for extensive use of tele-consultation especially in the hilly states to reach to the underserved areas. Centre is also assisting states on medicines for Black Fungus and on Oxygen. “We have to maintain Covid protocol and we will win this war against Covid”, he stated.

Dr Sujeet K. Singh, Director NCDC presented an overview of the COVID trajectory in the States. He suggested the ramp up of RAT testing and vaccination in rural areas as the spread is now going to pockets in the North East which are difficult to reach in terms of geography. The rise of positivity to more than 33% in some pockets was noted as a point of particular concern as it indicates high transmission in belts that are underserved by the country’s health network. He espoused the need to properly monitor home quarantine cases and enhanced surveillance for ILI/SARI cases to curb high CFR in certain Hill States.

Shri Vikash Sheel, Additional Secretary (Health) presented on the optimal and judicious use of vaccine doses. All the States, barring Tripura, has had a lower coverage of HCW/FLW workers than the National average (90% and 82% respectively). In the 45+ age-group category, Meghalaya (28%), Manipur (26%), West Bengal (25%), Assam (23%), Nagaland (22%) had a lower coverage than the National average (32%). States were advised to ensure complete utilization of available vaccination slots for 45+ age-group/HCW/FLW with awareness campaigns for conveying the importance of completing vaccination.

State administrators were advised to reduce vaccine wastage; Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya and Nagaland had clocked substantial wastage and were advised to retrain their staff to achieve minimum wastage. A 2/3-member team to be constituted at State level to regularly coordinate with manufacturers for timely supplies of vaccine through ‘Other than Govt. of India channel’ on the lines of the team operating at Union Government of India level. This 2/3 member team would also coordinate with Pvt. Hospitals. The list of Pvt. Hospitals in these States along with doses contracted and supplied have been already shared with States. Dr Harsh Vardhan assured the states of all support from the Centre in augmenting their vaccine drive.

 

 

 

Taking note of advice to augment their preparedness to contain COVID-19, the State Health administrators expressed their thanks for the help they have been receiving from the Union Government.

Shri Rajesh Bhushan, Union Health Secretary, Shri Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary (Health), Dr. Sujeet K. Singh, Director, NCDC and other senior Health officials were present in the meeting.