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Experts say local transmission of COVID well-established in India


New Delhi

In a joint statement, medical professional associations have criticised the handling of the coronavirus pandemic by the central government, stating that a draconian lockdown, incoherent strategies led to India paying a heavy price.

Most importantly, the statement reads, “It is unrealistic to expect that COVID-19 pandemic can be eliminated at this stage given that community transmission is already well-established across the large sections or sub-populations in the country.”

The evidence of community transmission has come forward earlier when the Indian research body ICMR dropped possible hints at community transmission in clusters in India.

However, health professionals as well as the Union health ministry continued to deny the community transmission in the country.

It further states: “Had the migrant persons been allowed to go home at the beginning of the epidemic when the disease spread was very low, the current situation could have been avoided. The returning migrants are now taking infection to each and every corner of the country; mostly to rural and peri-urban areas, in districts with relatively weak public health systems (including clinical care).”

Three medical professional associations submitted a joint statement to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 25. The signatories include former advisors to the health ministry, current and former professors at the All India Institute for Medical Sciences, Benaras Hindu University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, among others.

Among the signatories is Dr. DCS Reddy, a former professor at Institute of Medical Sciences at BHU, who was appointed as the head of the research group on epidemiology and surveillance constituted by the Indian government’s National Task Force for COVID-19 in April this year.

Another member of the research group, Dr Shashi Kant, professor and head of the Centre for Community Medicine at AIIMS, New Delhi, has also signed this statement.

Dr Kant said, “The statement is a joint statement by three associations. It is not a personal view. It is self-explanatory.”

The statement reads: “The response of the government of India after the first case on January 30, 2020 blunted the rapid progress of the infection and the nation accepted near-total disruption of all facets of daily living. Clinical, epidemiological and laboratory knowledge for control of the novel coronavirus indicate that humankind will have to “live with the virus” and operational strategies rapidly need to recalibrate from containment to mitigation.”

“The emerging evidence unequivocally indicates that COVID-19 worsened the health inequities, and public health measures need to make that concern central.”

“Had the government of India consulted epidemiologists who had a better grasp of disease transmission dynamics compared to modellers, it would have perhaps been better served,” it adds.

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