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12 districts free of new cases for 28 days; total number of cases is now 21, 700

India has managed to maintain a linear growth of COVID-19 cases over the one month period during its lockdown, the Union Health Ministry said on Thursday even as the country reported over 1,409 new COVID-19 cases, taking the total number of cases to 21,700 with 16,689 active ones.

There have been over 4,324 recoveries, which takes the recovery rate to 19.89 %, the Health Ministry said. A total of 686 deaths have been reported, with 34 in the past 24 hours.

It added that as on Thursday, there are 12 districts that did not have a fresh case in the last 28 days. Since April 21, eight new districts have been added including — Chitradurga (Karnataka), Bilaspur (Chhattisgarh), Imphal West (Manipur), Aizawl West (Mizoram), Bhadradri Kothagudem (Telangana), Pilibhit (Uttar Pradesh), SBS Nagar (Punjab) and South Goa (Goa).

Also, 78 districts from 23 States/Union Territories have not reported any fresh cases during the last 14 days.

State Health Departments have put the nationwide death toll at 718 with 23,034 cases of which 17, 428 are active ones.

Maharashtra has 5,304 active cases, with Mumbai reporting 478 new cases and eight deaths on Thursday taking the death toll to 168 and 4,232 cases.

‘Strategies succesful’

“Despite a 24-fold increase in testing, the percentage of positive cases is not rising phenomenally when compared to the percentage of positive cases at the beginning of the lockdown,” said chairman of the empowered group-2 C.K. Mishra.

“The growth of cases has been more or less linear, not exponential; this indicates that the strategies we have adopted have succeeded in containing the infection to a particular level,” he added.

Bengaluru airport is helping to grow the citrus variety, which enjoys a Geographical Indication tag

Fruit punch: A file photo of chakota on sale in Devanahalli.

Endowed with a unique taste and flavour, and a Geographical Indication (GI) tag, the Devanahalli Pomelo, the citrus fruit popularly known as chakota, is getting a fresh cultivation push.

The Karnataka Horticulture Department is set to provide the plant to interested farmers in Devanahalli and Doddaballapur regions. As urbanisation grows and the landscape changes, the number of farmers growing the fruit has dropped over the years. The fruit is localised to around 13 villages in Devanahalli taluk, eight villages of Sidlaghatta taluk and seven villages of Doddaballapura taluk.

A Joint Director in the Horticulture Department, Krishnamurthy, said, “Farmers in these areas grow chakota on the borders of their fields or near their houses. After the fruit received the GI tag, they are coming forward to grow the plant more widely. The department is using its farms in Chikkaballapur and Bengaluru Rural district to provide plants and promote it.”

Massive nursery

At Soppahalli farm in Chikkaballapur, the department is growing 5,000 plants, to provide them to interested farmers.

Guru Kumar, a farmer said, “Devanahalli is known for chakota. During the summer season, farmers sell it on the Devanahalli main road, on the National Highway and other areas. Each fruit is sold at around ₹ 80. But there are no buyers during the lockdown.”

Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL), which operates the Kempegowda International Airport (KIA) too is cultivating the fruit. BIAL said in a statement that under its CSR programme ‘Namma Ooru’, it will have 500 chakota plants.

With departmental support, 50 plants have been planted in the campus that once was a hub for pomelos before the airport came up.

BIAL aims to promote cultivation of the fruit and form a viable market in collaboration with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and other institutions.

It would work with farmers in and around Devanahalli to promote cultivation through self-help groups.

Zhang Wenhong points to signs of community transmission

Fight is on: Staff guiding people outside the COVID-19 ward at the LNJP Hospital in New Delhi on Thursday.R.V. Moorthy

India’s trajectory in COVID-19 cases is following the United States and likely to similarly reach a plateau rather than peak soon, one of China’s top infectious disease experts has said.

Since there were already signs of some community transmission in India, it was more likely to follow the trend of the U.S. and Europe rather than limit cases to a low number, said Zhang Wenhong, a leading figure in China’s COVID-19 strategy, who is also director of Huashan Hospital’s Department of Infectious Disease in Shanghai.

“I think the overall situation in India may be similar to that of the U.S,” he said. “The measures of each state in the U.S. are different. Some states are strict and some have resumed work. India has to consider how the economy functions and how the epidemic can be controlled, so it does not pay a high price for epidemic prevention.”

Long-term strategy

He said in this view, India’s approach to adopt a long-term strategy made sense, including its approach to testing. While India’s approach in tackling COVID-19 has been different from China’s sweeping lockdowns and mass quarantines, India’s strategy was understandable for its national conditions. “Every country should find a way that suits them according to their situation,” he said.

He suggested China’s “100%” lockdown, or Australia’s approach of locking down until very low numbers of new cases were reached, was unlikely to be replicated in other countries, and added that he did not necessarily advocate a one-size-fits-all approach.

“I personally feel that India does not need to adopt such a strategy,” he said. “I think their government would probably follow the U.S. strategy.”

India may not be able to keep cases to as low a level as did many places in China — which managed to limit the spread outside of the Hubei province epicentre with mass lockdowns, quarantines and testing — but at the same time, the rise in cases did not mean the spread was uncontrollable.

Work goes on

“Do not look only at the number of cases,” he said. “There have been hundreds of thousands of cases in the U.S. and Europe, more than in India. The lives of Europeans still has not stopped, and they are preparing to resume work, school and business.”

Dr. Zhang made the comments on Wednesday while interacting with Chinese nationals in India in an online exchange arranged by the Chinese Embassy, and fielding questions on India’s strategy, testing and the future trajectory of cases.

Globally under control

He believed the global pandemic was broadly under control, and as the number of diagnosed cases increased, the mortality rate would further reduce.

This outbreak, he said, was very different from SARS in 2003, which had a far higher mortality among both young and old. This also explained why some countries were choosing to reopen their economies and schools.

On the question of whether Indians had a higher immunity than the rest of the world — a matter that has been widely debated in China — Dr. Zhang said the incidence rate in India suggested this was not the case.

He said he was, however, moved to see how “calm” people were in handling the pandemic, which suggested what they did have was a high “spiritual immunity”.

It will carry out COVID-19 diagnosis and virus-culturing for various therapies

On the go: The mobile lab developed by the DRDO and ESIC Hospital, Hyderabad. Special Arrangement

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday inaugurated through videoconference a mobile virology research and diagnostics laboratory (MVRDL). It has been developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), together with ESIC Hospital, Hyderabad, and the private industry.

“The mobile lab will be helpful in carrying out diagnosis of COVID-19 and in virus-culturing for drug screening, convalescent plasma-derived therapy, comprehensive immune profiling of patients towards vaccine development and early clinical trials specific to Indian population,” the Defence Ministry said in a statement.

The MVRDL is the combination of a bio-safety level (BSL)-3 lab and a BSL-2 lab and was set up in a record time of 15 days. It can process 1,000-2,000 samples a day, the statement said.

The laboratories comply with the biosafety standards of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) so as to meet international guidelines.

The first such MVRDL was developed by the Research Centre Imarat (RCI), Hyderabad, in consultation with ESIC Hospital. It can be positioned anywhere in the country, the statement said.

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