Despite Surge, COVID Task Force Did Not Meet in Feb, March: Report

The task force met on 11 January, 15 April and then on 21 April, when India was hit by the surge in COVID cases.

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India
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“It became abundantly clear in mid-February that India was heading towards a devastating second wave,” said a member of the India’s COVID-19 task force, which according to a report by The Caravan did not even meet once during the months of February and March.

The report quotes two members of the national task force, comprising scientific leaders of the country, who have confirmed that the task force did not meet even once in the two months prior to the massive spike in COVID cases in April.

“When things in Maharashtra started going out of hand, some of us tried to flag this issue,” the first member added.

“The meeting was not convened as the government wanted us to rubber stamp some decisions already taken by the politicians,” the second member stated.

ICMR Failed to Update COVID Treatment Protocol for 9 Months

The report sheds light on another significant lapse by the government, wherein the treatment protocol for COVID-19 had not been updated by the Indian Council of Medical Research since July 2020, especially concerning the use of Remdesivir as treatment.

World Health Organization (WHO) in November 2020 had removed Remdesivir from its recommended protocols for treating COVID-19.

“WHO has issued a conditional recommendation against the use of Remdesivir in hospitalised patients, regardless of disease severity, as there is currently no evidence that Remdesivir improves survival and other outcomes in these patients,” WHO’s statement in November had said.

However, according to the report, ICMR failed to update the Indian COVID-19 treatment protocols, which still mentioned Remdesivir as part of “investigational therapies” that would be upgraded “as the situation evolves, and when more data becomes available".

The protocols were last updated on 3 July 2020.

As COVID Cases Spiked, Task Force Only Met Thrice

According to the two members of the task force, the committee only met thrice prior to the spike in cases in April. They met on 11 January, 15 April and then on 21 April.

On 5 April, India hit its record highest daily rise since the pandemic broke out, with 1,03,558 new cases, which continued to shoot up at alarming rates each day, and nearly tripled to 3.14 lakh new cases by 22 April.

The report stated that the task force met on 21 April, to review treatment protocol. The total number of infections recorded on this day went beyond 3 lakh. However, the decisions from the meeting have not been made public yet.

The report further states that the task force was not consulted as the Centre announced and revised its COVID-19 vaccination policies. It had not consulted even when Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended last years’ nationwide lockdown.

COVID Mutates as Political Rallies and Kumbh Continue

Midway through February 2021, Maharashtra was one of the first states to witness a spike in cases, with infections doubling within days owing to the new variants of COVID-19.

As of 23 April, several media reports have reported on a double and a triple mutant variant of the virus, where two or three strains of the coronavirus were combining to form a new variant.

Despite knowing the severity of the virus and its heightened contagious rate, large-scale religious events, like the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, were held and political rallies for the West Bengal Assembly elections continued. These rallies witnessed thousands of people, where social distancing was just a prayer.

“As the virus spreads, it gets more opportunities to acquire mutations and evolve at a faster rate. This is a natural aspect of the virus life-cycle but it is very important that we track these changes (virus surveillance) and follow the important viral characteristics associated with these mutations.”
Dr Veena P Menon, Faculty In Charge, Clinical Virology Laboratory, Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, Kochi, told IANS.

With the increase in the number of infections and spread, there are more opportunities for the virus to mutate.

“As the infections are increasing at an alarming rate, there is a very high likelihood that we will encounter more virus variants in our population. Some of these variants get selected for faster transmissibility (spread) or ‘increased severity’ (more pathogenic) and 'immune (vaccine) escape’,” Dr Veena P Menon said.

Oxygen Supply Continue to Be a Crisis

Amid a desperate shortage of oxygen supply in hospitals across the country, the Ministry of Railways has started the Oxygen Express, which in its maiden voyage, will deliver 100 tonnes of liquid medical oxygen from Vizag to COVID-hit Maharashtra.

Sri Ganga Ram hospital on 23 April reported that 25 of its “sickest patients” have died in the last 24 hours and 60 more patients are currently at risk, the hospital said in a statement.

"Low oxygen concentration likely contributed to deaths of critical patients. Critical patients need high pressure, stable oxygen supply," said Satendra Katoch, Medical Director of Sri Ganga Ram Hospital.

Politics has also found its place amid the shortage of oxygen supply, as Haryana and Uttar Pradesh governments restricted oxygen tankers from being sent to Delhi hospitals.

While several hospitals like Max, Apollo, Sri Ganga Ram and Fortis are dependent on oxygen suppliers from the neighbouring states, the restrictions continue even after the Delhi High Court ruled against any curb and the Haryana and Delhi Chief Ministers reached an agreement.

Sangita Reddy, Joint MD of Apollo Group of Hospitals, tweeted on Thursday, 22 April, that the Haryana Police is not allowing an Air Liquide oxygen tanker to ply out of Haryana.

Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal at a press conference on 22 April stated that the UT required 700 tonnes of medical oxygen every day to sustain the demand. It’s currently being supplied with only 480 tonnes of the life-saving gas. This means several hospitals will continue to face a shortage in the coming days.

India on 23 April reported 3,32,740 fresh cases of COVID-19 and 2,263 deaths in the past 24 hours. Experts have predicted that India will reach its peak between 11-15 May.

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