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WHO concerned about India’s rising Covid-19 cases and the younger lot catching virus



MUMBAI: A top World Health Organisation (WHO) official has voiced concern that Covid-19 is moving into India’s rural areas, where shaky healthcare systems can easily get overwhelmed, leading to higher mortality rates.

Mike Ryan, head of emergency preparedness at the WHO, also said that the pattern of the disease moving into younger age groups is visible in the country. He was responding to ET’s query at a weekly press conference held through video link on Monday.

“Clearly, India is facing a challenge with respect to the disease… In India, there has been a 35% increase in cases in the last one week and over 25% increase in deaths…,” Ryan said. “India is really trying to beef up its testing regime. It is aiming for million tests a day. It is huge but it is getting there slowly. The worrying aspect of this is that the positivity rate continues to increase; now it is about 12.5%. So, it demonstrates that the disease is circulating intensely.”

The WHO also appealed to countries to enforce the basic measures such as washing of hands, wearing a mask, physical distancing and testing to fight the disease.

Official data released by the Indian government on August 3 showed 579,357 active cases of Covid-19 in the country and 38,135 deaths from the disease.

On an average, 381,027 coronavirus tests are being conducted each day. Most of the new cases are being reported from tier 2 and 3 cities in Andhra, Karnataka and Maharashtra.

This week, researchers who conducted the sero study in Mumbai and Delhi will be presenting the findings to the WHO, said Maria Van Kerkove, Covid-19 technical lead.

“The two studies (Mumbai and Delhi) are indeed very interesting and we need to look at few things–the populations that were studied, if these were specific populations, and if they represent a larger bigger population. And secondly, what type of circulation was there in these areas where the studies were done and the assays that were used,” said Kerkove. “So we will fold this in our general understanding, and we look forward to learning more from the actual researchers.”

According to Kerkove, most serosurveys done across the world have shown seroprevalence of 10% in the general population. The prevalence is higher in certain types of population, like healthcare workers or front-line workers.

Serosurveys are done to check presence of antibodies to a pathogen. The body produces antibodies after it is infected.

The serosurveys conducted in Mumbai in first week of July showed that 57% of the general population in Mumbai’s slums across three wards and 16% in apartment buildings of these wards were exposed to the SARS Cov2 virus.

The serosurvey in Delhi, which covered 20,000 households in 11 districts of the city between June 27 and July 10, found that 22% of the people tested had been exposed to the virus. In central Delhi, which saw the highest number of cases in the city, the prevalence of coronavirus infection was 27.8%.

According to Ryan, it is not surprising that in very crowded cities like Delhi and Mumbai, the sero prevalence rate would be high. Ryan, however, cautioned that there is a need to look at the population that has been sampled. “In many of these studies, even if they are well conducted, there are natural biases in who is sampled. And we will need to check on the peer reviewed data to make sure that the numbers indicated are an accurate reflection of what we believe the population infection rate to be.”


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