Odishatv Bureau

New Delhi: The Union Health Ministry on Saturday said that the number of COVID-19 (coronavirus) cases in the country could have increased to 8.2 lakh by April 15 had India not implemented a lockdown and other containment measures.

Addressing a daily briefing on the coronavirus situation of the country, Joint Secretary in the Health Ministry Lav Agarwal said early preemptive action has been taken to identify COVID-19 hotspots, along with implementation of other containment measures.

"According to a statistical analysis by us, India would have registered a 41 per cent cumulative rise in the number of cases, taking the total to 2.08 lakh on April 11 and 8.2 lakh by April 15 had there been no COVID-19 nationwide lockdown or other containment measures," the officer said.

With containment measures but no lockdown, the number of cases could have risen to 1.2 lakh till April 15 and to 45,370 on April 11 going by the peak growth rate of 28.9 per cent seen before the lockdown, he said.

On Friday, when asked about an 'ICMR report' that stated India would have had up to 8.2 lakh COVID-19 positive cases by April 15 had it not been for the 21-day nationwide lockdown, Agarwal had said there was no such report.

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The question on the purported 'ICMR report' was asked on Friday after MEA's Secretary (West) Vikas Swarup, while briefing foreign media, had reportedly said that without the lockdown, there could have been 8,20,000 cases by 15 April.

He had cited an Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) study for the figure of 8.2 lakh.

Agarwal on Saturday clarified that there was no such ICMR report which gave the 8.2 lakh figure, but a "statistical analysis by us".

Stressing on the importance of social distancing, lockdown and other efforts in the battle against coronavirus, Agarwal said, "Since we started promoting social distancing and implemented lockdown from March 25 along with other containment measures, there has been a decrease in cases and we have 7,447 coronavirus cases till date."

His remarks came on a day Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacted with chief ministers and said there seems to be a consensus among states on extending by another two weeks the ongoing nationwide lockdown, which began on March 25 and was to end on April 14.

At the briefing, Agarwal elaborated on India's preparedness to deal with the challenge of the virus, saying 586 hospitals have been earmarked as dedicated COVID-19 facilities at state and Central level with capacity of over one lakh isolation beds and 11,836 ICU beds reserved for such patients.

"This figure is being augmented every day, based on the evolving situation," he said.

According to the Health Ministry, the death toll due to coronavirus rose to 242 and the number of cases in the country climbed to 7,529 on Saturday, an increase of 768 cases in 24 hours since Friday evening

"The response of the Government of India has been preemptive, proactive and to the extent of being over-prepared and through our graded approach, we have aligned our response with the evolving situation," Agarwal said.

The AYUSH ministry has prepared a set of guidelines on respiratory health and to boost immunity. Districts have been asked to incorporate this in district-level contingency plan as well, he said.

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Agarwal also asserted that the country has no shortage of anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, cited by many as a viable therapeutic solution to counter the coronavirus infection.

To a question on the efficacy of the drug on frontline health workers, Head of Epidemiology and Communicable diseases at ICMR Raman R Gangakhedkar said, "Out study has not reached at the stage where the results can be analysed so as to draw a conclusion. The duration of exposure has to be long enough otherwise our conclusions may be wrong."

Stressing on the use of hydroxychloroquine as a prophylaxis for healthcare workers and household contacts taking care of coronavirus positive case, he said, "There is no evidence to recommend its use for general public."

To another question, the ICMR official said, "Five lakh antibody testing kits ordered by the ICMR have not been received yet."

He said over 1.7 lakh samples have been tested for COVID-19 in the country so far, of which 16,564 were tested on Friday. Out of these 16,564 samples, 14,210 were tested in 146 government laboratories under the ICMR network and the remaining at 67 private labs.