Ever since the first case of Covid-19 was detected in the country on Jan 30, India has steadfastly denied community transmission of the coronavirus. The term refers to a person-to-person spread of an infection where the source is difficult to trace.
India’s denial implies it is capable of tracing the source of every coronavirus infection in the country.
It is a claim dismissed by many who argue the virus has begun spreading among population groups that have little to do with travel or have had no contact with travellers. This denial of community transmission has worrying implications, they add, because India’s limited healthcare resources are being spent trying to trace transmission chains of the virus in areas with community transmission when they should instead be dedicated to isolating and treating those infected.
India currently has the fourth-highest number of Covid-19 cases, trailing the United States, Brazil and Russia, with at least 440,215 cases and more than 14,011 deaths. On Sunday, it registered its biggest single-day spike of 15,372 cases.
But despite a rapidly growing caseload three months since the country’s borders were sealed for incoming travellers, the Indian government maintains there is no community transmission.
“India is such a large country and the prevalence is so low in our country. We have found the prevalence is less than 1 per cent in these small districts,” Dr Balram Bhargava, director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), told a press conference on June 11.
He was speaking to discuss findings of India’s first sero-survey on the spread of Covid-19 that found a prevalence rate of 0.73 per cent in 83 districts surveyed. A sero-survey is conducted by testing blood serum drawn from a sample of people in a community to detect antibodies.
“In the urban areas, it may be slightly higher. In the containment areas, it may be slightly higher. But… India is not in community transmission,” he added.
The extent of Covid-19’s spread varies greatly across India. While Kerala has managed relatively well in containing the pandemic with discernible transmission chains, Maharashtra, Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat have seen a worrying rise in the number of cases, with embedded chains of transmission that remain untraceable.
A study conducted in April by some researchers, including those from ICMR, even found that 39.2 per cent of the Covid-19 cases analysed in the country did not report any history of contact with a known case or international travel.
Referring to Delhi, where cases have shot past 62,655, Ms K. Sujatha Rao, a former top bureaucrat of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, tweeted yesterday to say not acknowledging community transmission in the city means scarce resources and energies are “being wasted doing half-hearted tracing”.
Delhi’s Minister of Health Satyendar Jain, who is recovering from Covid-19, earlier this month said the source of the disease remains unknown in half of the cases in the city, but added that it was up to the federal government to declare whether the city had entered the community transmission phase.