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Nationwide deaths at 169; Maharashtra toll climbs to 97 with 1,142 active cases

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Thursday said the country has maintained a steady rate of COVID-19 positive cases — 3% to 5% over the past month and half — and has registered no significant increase in this trend so far.

The country currently has 5,865 confirmed cases and 169 deaths. This includes 591 new cases and 20 deaths in the last 24 hours, Joint Secretary in the Union Health Ministry Lav Agrawal said at the daily press briefing. He added that 473 people had recovered and been discharged so far.

The ICMR noted that 1,44,910 samples from 1,30,792 individuals had been tested as on April 9. Of these, 5,734 samples tested positive till date. “Positivity rate ranges between 3%-5% with no major increase. On Wednesday, we tested 13,143 samples,’’ said ICMR official Manoj Murhekar.

Plasma therapy

Dr. Murhekar added that the Council was in the final stages of drawing up a protocol for trial on convalescent plasma therapy, for which approvals have to be taken.

“In this therapy, plasma from a COVID-19 recovered patient is transfused into an infected severely ill patient so that the specific antibodies in the blood of the recovered patient can help fight the infection. This is done for very ill patients on ventilators and has given good results in some studies abroad,” he said.

The nationwide death toll touched 205 on Thursday, State Health Departments reported. The number of active cases was 5,815. Maharashtra continued to report the maximum number of deaths, at 97, as well as active cases at 1,142. Tamil Nadu reported 799 active cases, with 96 new cases, while Delhi has 683 active cases with more three deaths since Wednesday.

Saving lives is topmost priority now, says CM Naveen Patnaik

Reaching the people: Vendors selling vegetables from a bus stop in Bhubaneswar on Thursday. Biswaranjan Rout

Odisha on Thursday extended the lockdown till April 30. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik made the announcement after a Cabinet meeting held through videoconferencing.

He said one had to decide between protecting the lives of the people and economic activity at this crucial juncture, and the Cabinet decided that saving lives was the topmost priority now.

In a video message, Mr. Patnaik announced that the State would recommend to the Central government to extend the national lockdown up to April 30. “We will also request the Centre not to start airline and railway services till April 30.” Educational institutions in the State would remain closed till June 17, he noted.

Help for those stranded

As regards the people from Odisha who are stranded in various parts of the country, Mr. Patnaik said his government’s intervention for their well-being would be through the State governments concerned. “We will take care of all the people who are stranded in Odisha.”

Activities related to agriculture, animal husbandry and MGNREGS would be facilitated during the lockdown period, he said. Food security was a major priority of the government. “There will not be any problem in transport of goods.”

The government was leaving no stone unturned in scaling up testing and treatment facilities. “We propose to do one lakh rapid tests in the State in the earliest possible time,” he said.

He thanked doctors from all over the country who had offered their services for the telemedicine helpline launched on Wednesday.

D

Sealing, quarantining, doorstep delivery in containment zones

Arvind Kejriwal

The Delhi government will carry out ‘Operation SHIELD’ at 21 locations identified as containment zones in the Capital, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced here on Thursday.

‘Operation SHIELD’, which includes sealing, identifying and quarantining people in containment zones, doorstep delivery of essential items and door-to-door chec-king of people in those areas, will be undertaken by the Delhi government, he said.

“We have begun Operation SHIELD… S for sealing of the immediate area after geographical marking, H for home quarantine of all in the area, I for isolation and tracing of people who have been first and second contacts, E for essential supplies, which involves doorstep delivery of essential items to the people, L for local sanitisation and disinfection of those areas, and D for door-to-door checking so that people having symptoms of COVID-19 are isolated and testing can be done after taking samples,” he said.

Mr. Kejriwal also spoke about the need to wear masks before stepping out of homes. “This has been advised based on recent observations and news from across the world where authorities are advising everyone, and not just people infected with coronavirus, to wear masks to protect themselves,” he said. “We have issued orders that everyone stepping out of their homes in Delhi should wear masks. If you do not have a mask, you can use a clean cloth or a handkerchief to cover your nose and mouth,” he said.

ICMR approval of clinical protocol may help critically ill COVID-19 patients

With Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan making it clear that the State would explore all available treatment options for COVID-19, the State has gone a step ahead and won the Indian Council of Medical Research’s approval to explore the feasibility of administering convalescent plasma transfusion on critically ill patients.

“Convalescent plasma therapy is not new and has been used by doctors to treat critically ill patients during earlier epidemics like H1N1, SARS and Ebola. The expert committee which is guiding the State’s containment and mitigation strategies against COVID-19 had recommended exploring the plasma therapy following the report in JAMA of a pilot study done by doctors in China,” a member of the State-appointed expert committee said.

It may be noted that plasma from the blood of previously infected yet healthy individuals had been transferred to five critically ill patients in China and their condition had steadily improved and were subsequently discharged from hospitals.

The proposal submitted to the ICMR says that the Transfusion Medicine Department of Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology would help the State Health Department in exploring the feasibility of plasma therapy for COVID-19 treatment.

“Getting the clinical protocol for administering plasma therapy cleared by the ICMR is just part of our preparedness,” he added.

40% of patients with severe respiratory illness lacked travel history, suggest ICMR scientists

There was evidence of community transmission — or instances of COVID-19 in patients who had no established contact with someone who had picked up the disease from abroad — from as early as March 22, suggests a research study in the Indian Journal of Medical Research, authored by several ICMR scientists, including its head Balram Bhargava, and made public late on Thursday.

On March 24, Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed a nationwide lockdown for three weeks. The ICMR’s official position continues to be that there is no evidence for community transmission. With the case load increasing on an average of 500 per day for nearly a week, the Health Ministry and the States have stepped up surveillance and testing at hotspots and announced indefinite extensions of the 21-day lockdown.

The ICMR’s testing strategy has been to check those who showed symptoms of the disease — cough, fever and laboured breathing — in those with international travel history, their contacts and health-workers tending to those with Severe Acute Respiratory Illness (SARI-a syndrome of COVID-19).

To check whether there was a wider prevalence of COVID-19, it began to randomly test samples of hospitalised SARI patients from February 15, and from March 20, all patients who exhibited the syndrome.

“When the COVID testing strategy was expanded to include all SARI patients (from March 21), a total of 4,946 samples yielded 102 (2.1%) cases. The positivity increased from zero during the initial weeks to 2.6% in the 14th week,” the report notes. A total of 102 of these cases were from samples gleaned from March 22 to April 2. “Of the 102 COVID-19 positive SARI patients, 40 (39.2%) did not report any history of contact or international travel,” the study underlines. Only two of the samples from February 15 to March 20 later turned positive.

Details of the States from which these cases were emerging also point to why certain districts are under increased surveillance. In 15 States, more than 1% of SARI patients were COVID-19 positive. About a third of the COVID-19 positive SARI cases did not have any history of contact with laboratory-confirmed cases or international travel, and such cases were reported from 36 districts in 15 States. These districts need to be prioritised to target COVID-19 containment activities, the study underlines. 2.3% of those SARI patients who tested positive were male, and positivity among women was only 0.8%.

The 50-59 age group was most likely to test positive for the infection.

A majority of the SARI patients were tested from Gujarat (792), Tamil Nadu (577), Maharashtra (533) and Kerala (503). These are also the States with the highest prevalence overall of COVID cases. “Tracking the spread of COVID-19 is critical to inform response activities, including testing, containment and mitigation measures. The current SARI testing strategy will complement and strengthen the routine COVID-19 surveillance activities,” the study added.

The ubiquitous decorative cotton towels are being repurposed as protective gear to fight the coronavirus

Unique motifs: Members of a non-profit organisation have designed these masks from gamosas. Special ArrangementSpecial Arrangement

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the ubiquitous gamosa, a decorative cotton towel, evolve from memento to mask.

For Pratibha Das, Mamani Malakar, Rebati Baishya and other members of the non-profit Hargila Army in Pacharia, a village 25 km northwest of Guwahati, sewing the gamosa masks is more than just keeping themselves engaged to beat the lockdown inactivity.

They have been designing the masks with motifs of the endangered hargila (greater adjutant stork), rhino and elephant to add a dash of wildlife conservation to the protection of human faces.

“We had ordered thousands of gamosas to be made and sold by the women during the Rongali Bihu festival. Since lockdown has put paid to the Bihu celebrations, the women turned the towels into masks for use during the COVID-19 crisis,” Purnima Devi Barman, stork conservationist and founder of the Hargila Army, told The Hindu on Thursday.

The Hargila Army women, however, were not the first to improvise. A Fine Arts student named Phanindra Pradhan had transformed the gamosa after pharmacies in his town of Gohpur ran out of masks.

“We wash the gamosas in disinfectant before ironing and stitching them into masks that are sold at ₹50 apiece,” Mr. Pradhan said, adding that he has been receiving regular orders.

Assam has traditionally had two types of gamosas — the uka or plain kind used to wipe sweat or dry the body after a bath, and the phulam, which is decorated with floral motifs to be gifted as a memento or during festivals such as Bihu.

Cultural identity

Cultural historians say the gamosa came to symbolise Assamese nationalism in 1916 when the Asom Chatra Sanmilan, a students’ organisation was formed, followed by the Assam Sahitya Sabha, a literary body. Wearing the phulam gamosa around the neck became a standard for cultural identity.

“The Assamese way of life is woven in the gamosa, whether plain or decorative. From a cultural symbol, it became a political symbol before designers explored its potential as dress material such as distinctive shirts,” said B.K. Goswami, a retired banker and writer.

Thegamosa’s graph as a symbol of protest rose during the anti-foreigners Assam Agitation from 1979 to 1985.

The extremist United Liberation Front of Asom too used the towel with “revolutionary” motifs.

The gamosa staged a comeback as a political statement with the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act from mid-December 2019. The protests have continued intermittently after the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

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