The country on Saturday recorded a frightening single-day spike in Covid-19 cases with over 2.34 lakh fresh infections, crossing the two lakh-mark for the third straight day, as demands for increased supply of oxygen cylinders, vaccine doses and Remdesivir were raised by 11 states and UTs, including Delhi, where the pandemic situation was described as "worrisome" by the chief minister.
As India's Covid-19 tally inched towards 1.50 crore-mark and the death toll climbed above 1.75 lakh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union health Harsh Vardhan held meetings to review measures taken by states for prevention, containment and management of the recent surge.
In the meeting to review preparedness of the public health response to Covid-19 situation, Modi called for a close coordination with states to defeat the virus as also for utilisation of entire national capacity to ramp up vaccine production.
Reiterating that there is no substitute to testing, tracking and treatment, Modi said all necessary measures must be taken to ramp up availability of hospital beds for Covid-19 patients, and also asked local administrations to be proactive, sensitive to people's concerns.
He also reviewed the status of supply of Remdesivir and other medicines, and called for speeding up installation of approved medical oxygen plants.
Earlier in the day, the prime minister also appealed that participation in the ongoing Kumbh Mela be kept symbolic in view of the unprecedented surge in the coronavirus cases. The Hindu religious gathering in Haridwar has been at the centre of controversy amid fears that it could be a super spreader event with lakhs of devotees attending the event without following the Covid protocols.
During the meeting with Vardhan, health ministers of 11 states and Union territories (UTs) demanded increased supply of medical-grade oxygen cylinders and Remdesivir in hospitals.
The states, including Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, West Bengal, Delhi, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, which have been reporting an unprecedented surge in Covid cases, attended the meeting.
“Many of them raised the issue of dovetailing the medical oxygen supply lines and capping of prices of essential drugs like Remdesivir which has been sold in the black market at exorbitant prices. Double mutant strain in Maharashtra was a key point of concern. The Delhi government requested for additional beds in central government hospitals as was done in 2020 to help tide over the emergent health crisis,” the ministry said in a statement after the meeting.
The notification of the home ministry, granting permission to states to utilise up to 50 per cent of their annual allocation of the State Disaster Response Fund, and that of the Union health ministry, allowing utilisation of unspent pending balance under National Health Mission as on April 1, 2021 for Covid management purposes, were reiterated, it said.
Describing the pandemic situation in the national capital, which reported 24,000 Covid cases on Saturday with positivity rate jumping to the highest-ever 24 per cent, as "very serious and worrisome", Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said oxygen stock, and drugs like Remdesivir and Tocilizumab drugs for patients were in short supply.
He said that the number of beds are also running out fast and the Delhi government is trying to increase beds on a large-scale in the coming days.
"The cases of Covid-19 are rising fast in Delhi. In the last 24 hours, around 24,000 fresh cases have been reported. Within a day, the number has gone up from around 19,500 to around 24,000. So, the situation is very serious and worrisome," Kejriwal said.
This is the highest single-day surge in the national capital till date.
Kejriwal also instructed all district magistrates to check with laboratories about pendency of samples before giving them more to test, in order to prevent any delay in test report. He said some labs in the city have been taking more samples than their capacity, because of which results are getting delayed by 3-4 days.
According to the Union health ministry, 10 states -- Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan -- report 79.32 per cent of the new cases.
Sixteen states and UTs -- Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab, Kerala, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Telangana, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal -- are displaying an upward trajectory in daily new cases, it said.
The ministry said five states -- Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala -- cumulatively account for 65.02 per cent of India's total active cases. Maharashtra alone accounts for 38.09 per cent of the total active caseload in the country.
Meanwhile, the cumulative number of Covid-19 vaccine doses administered in the country nearly reached 12 crore on Saturday as part of the world's largest vaccination drive.
The number of active coronavirus cases in the country has surpassed the 16-lakh mark, according to the Union health ministry.
With many states reporting shortage and black marketing of Remdesivir injection, used in the treatment of Covid-19, the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) said pharmaceutical companies have reduced the price following the government's intervention.
Drug companies like Cadila Healthcare, Dr Reddy's Laboratories and Cipla have cut the prices of their respective brands of Remdesivir injection (100 mg/vial). The antiviral drug is used in the treatment of Covid-19.
Union Chemicals and Fertilizers Minister Sadananda Gowda hailed the decision taken by the drug companies.
In a tweet, he said: "In a huge relief to people in this crucial time, after govt's intervention, the price of Remdesivir is now reduced! I am grateful to pharma companies for standing along with PM Narendra Modi's fight against Covid."
Many states and UTs also took steps to ensure adequate supply of medical oxygen to their hospitals grappling with demand due to the spurt in Covid cases. While the Jammu and Kashmir administration constituted a committee to ensure adequate and timely supply of medical oxygen to all hospitals, the Goa government announced a ban on the export of oxygen cylinders and ordered that the stock of this life-saving gas meant for the industry be diverted to health services.
Also on Saturday, the global death toll from the coronavirus surged past 3 million people, according to the Johns Hopkins University.