The government on Friday said the recent slow decline in number of daily cases is a warning and though the situation is currently under control, it can deteriorate if Covid appropriate behaviour is not followed, and noted that the next 100-125 days are critical, both for the system and people.
Addressing a press conference, NITI Aayog Member (Health) Dr V K Paul said the question of the third wave keeps coming up because the population is still 'very vulnerable' to the infection.
"We still have not reached the stage of herd immunity... we don't want to acquire herd immunity through infections. We are progressing in terms of vaccines and nearly 50 per cent of our most vulnerable group, above the age of 45 years, is protected. This will also impact mortality and it will come down, but there can be spread of infection. We are vulnerable. Virus is still around," he warned.
Paul said the next 100-125 days are critical.
"We need to be cautious...we have seen that our decline has slowed down and this is a warning to us but the situation is under control. This can worsen. But it is not in our hands to not let it worsen.
"These are the same tools (COVID-appropriate behaviour) that are being talked about. If we use them, then the third wave may not hit," he said.
"If we all decide then there won't be any third wave. As vaccination drives pick up further...(in) three, four months, then there is a possibility that we will be in a safe zone. But the next 100-125 days are critical, both for the system and people. We have to remain cautious," he added.
Giving rise to fresh worries about the COVID-19 pandemic rearing its head again, the R-factor, which indicates the speed at which the infection is spreading in the country, has risen recently leading to a sluggish pace in the decline of active cases, while Kerala and northeast states have emerged as regions of concern, an analysis by researchers at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Chennai.
Joint Secretary at the Health Ministry Lav Agarwal said though the number of cases of COVID-19 have come down there are still some concerns.
"There are 47 districts in the country across 12 states and UTs where the positivity rate is more than 10 per cent. The states and UTs were Manipur, Kerala, Rajasthan, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, Assam, Maharashtra and Puducherry," he said.
He further said that 73 districts are reporting more than 100 daily cases.
"The COVID-19 pandemic is still amidst us and even in limited geography but we are still battling the second wave," he said.
Agarwal presented a study in which decline in mask usage can be seen.
"With the resumption of activities, decline in mask usage is being seen. We need to incorporate masks as the new normal in our lives," he said.
He also said community mobility data shows that there has been a rise in mobility in the country in comparison to May 20 when most of the country was under lockdown.
"It is important that as we are returning towards relaxation we must keep in mind the precautions that we have to take like the use of masks, maintaining two-feet distance and hand hygiene," he said.
Agarwal said Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday also urged states where COVID-19 cases are rising to take proactive measures to prevent a third wave and stressed on moving forward with the strategy of test, track, treat and 'tika (vaccine)'.
Agarwal said worldwide a surge in cases are being seen.
On April 29, when worldwide 9 lakh new cases were being reported now again a growth trajectory is being observed and in the whole world in the last 24 hours, 5,63,416 new cases have been reported and a surge can be seen.
"If we look at countries around us, we will see that countries like Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh have been reporting a surge in cases," he said.
On slump in vaccination, Agarwal said the government has worked towards increasing production of vaccines, collaborated with manufacturers and the government has also given advanced visibility of next 15 days to states on what particular vaccine doses will be made available.
"The logistic management has to be linked at production and availability at field level and while we appreciate the concern of states to get more vaccine doses we must also appreciate how government of India on one side is increasing production and parallelly ensuring that 75 per cent of doses are given free of cost to states," he said.
Paul added that there can be some issues with fine-tuning and that will be worked upon.
"Whatever the availability of vaccines in a month, it is visible and we share it systematically. It is also right that this number increases. We are hopeful that the production will take place as per the roadmap. All kinds of assistance is being provided. Be rest assured.
"New vaccine candidates as well as the increasing stockpile is visible. Serum (Institute of India which manufactures Covishield) has increased its production in the last few weeks. There is a roadmap, there is an optimistic scenario and we are approaching it," he said.
On availability of Moderna vaccine in the country, Paul said talks are going on.
"...to and fro (talks) are going on over the contractual specifics. Discussions have not yet concluded. We are making efforts as to it happens at the earliest. We are now expecting to hear from them anytime. Currently, they have to respond to some of the points we have made and we will take it forward," he said.