India Covid updates: Double mutant variant detected; Centre says surge in Maharashtra and Punjab a matter of ‘grave concern’

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CovidPeople queue up in front of BKC Jambo COVID Vaccination Centre in Mumbai. (Express photo by Pradip Das)

The Covid-19 surge continued across the country on Wednesday, with Maharashtra reporting 31,855 fresh cases — its highest single-day spike since the outbreak of the pandemic — and Delhi recording 1,254 new cases, its highest spike in over three months.

Addressing a press conference, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said about 88 per cent of all Covid-19 deaths in the country are in the age group of 45 years and above, making them the most vulnerable section that needs to be protected. He added that the case fatality rate in this age group is 2.85 per cent. This came a day after the government opened up vaccinations for all those in the age bracket from April 1.

Covid variants of concern identified in 18 states

A new “double mutant variant” of the coronavirus has been detected in addition to many other strains or variants of concern (VOCs) found in 18 states in the country, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.

“Though VOCs and a new double mutant variant have been found in India, these have not been detected in numbers sufficient to either establish or direct relationship or explain the rapid increase in cases in some states. Genomic sequencing and epidemiological studies are continuing to further analyse the situation,” the ministry said in its press release today.

It added, “Since INSACOG initiated its work, 771 variants of concerns (VOCs) have been detected in a total of 10787 positive samples shared by States/UTs. These include 736 samples positive for viruses of the UK (B.1.1.7) lineage. 34 samples were found positive for viruses of the South African (B.1.351) lineage. 1 sample was found positive for viruses of the Brazilian (P.1) lineage. The samples with these VOCs have been identified in 18 States of the country.”

Surge in Maharashtra and Punjab a matter of ‘grave concern’

The Union Health Ministry said that the surge in infections in Punjab and Maharashtra is a matter of “grave concern”. Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said that Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh are of concern too. Gujarat is reporting around 1,700 cases daily and MP around 1500 cases. Most cases in Gujarat are concentrated in Surat, Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Rajkot and Bhavnagar.

The rate of increase in coronavirus cases in Maharashtra between February 14 to March 23 was three times that recorded in the previous four months, data shows. After a steady decline since October, the new cases surged noticeably since February 14.

Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat together account for 77.44 per cent of the new infections, the Union Health Ministry said.

“Eight states have reported a higher weekly positivity rate than the national average (4.11 per cent). Maharashtra leads with a weekly positivity rate of 20.53 per cent,” the ministry said.

Nine Maharashtra districts have maximum number of active cases

Bhushan said that the 10 worst-affected districts in the country are Pune, Nagpur, Mumbai, Thane, Nashik, Aurangabad, Bengaluru Urban, Nanded, Jalgaon and Akola. Nine districts on the list are from Maharashtra and one from Karnataka.

Holi celebrations banned in Gujarat, Haryana and Pune

In view of the rising number of Covid cases, Haryana, Gujarat and Pune also banned public celebrations of Holi.

The Gujarat government issued a notification banning public celebration of Holi and said the ritual of “Holika Dahan” can be observed in small gatherings. As per the notification issued by the home department, public celebrations and mass functions cannot be allowed on the day of Dhuleti on March 29 due to the prevailing pandemic.

Pyres can be lit traditionally and ritualistic circumambulation will be allowed, but only a limited number of people will be permitted to participate, the notification stated.

Haryana Home Minister Anil Vij tweeted, “In the light of the Covid-19 situation, public celebration of Holi will not be allowed in the state.”

Delhi and Mumbai had banned Holi celebrations earlier while the Uttar Pradesh government has issued a set of guidelines asking senior citizens and vulnerable groups to stay away from celebrations and said no processions or gatherings will be allowed without prior administrative permission.

(With inputs from PTI)

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