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As many as 300 districts in India are reporting weekly covid case positivity of more than 5%, the Union government said on Wednesday as it warned against treating the infection due to the Omicron variant as common cold and urged people to get vaccinated.

At a press conference, joint secretary in the Union health ministry Lav Agarwal said Maharashtra, West Bengal, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, and Gujarat are emerging as states of concern due to the rise in covid cases there.

A sharp rise in covid-19 infections has been noted in India with the case positivity climbing to 11.05% on Wednesday from 1.1% on 30 December, he said.

Concurrently, covid cases have been rising globally with 10 January recording the highest ever single-day rise of 3.16 million cases worldwide, Agarwal noted.

NITI Aayog Member (Health) V.K. Paul said the pandemic has again become intense, this time powered by the Omicron variant “which is rapidly replacing or has already replaced" Delta as the dominant form.

“Omicron is not the common cold and we cannot take it lightly just because it is causing mild infections. This variant has led to the collapse of the health system of some countries. Health workers at some places had to take leave leading to increased pressure." Stressing that vaccination is an important pillar in the covid response programme, Dr Paul said, “We need to be vigilant, get vaccinated and follow covid-appropriate behaviour. It is society’s responsibility to slow the spread... We will defeat this virus together."

About the spread of the disease, Agarwal said the number of districts reporting over 5% weekly case positivity has increased from 78 in the week ending on 4 January to 300 in the week ending on 11 January.

Informing the press conference that 19 states have over 10,000 active covid cases, he said Mumbai, Pune and Thane in Maharashtra, Bengaluru Urban in Karnataka, Kolkata in West Bengal, and Chennai in Tamil Nadu are emerging as districts of concern.

Stressing on the importance of getting inoculated, the joint secretary quoted the World Health Organisation to say that vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization appears to be substantially higher than against symptomatic covid-19 disease.

Paul said 92% of India’s adults have been administered the first dose of covid-19 vaccine while 68% are fully inoculated. Around 1.87 million has been given precaution dose, while 38% of the adolescents in the age group of 15-18 years have received the first dose.

“It is our appeal, whoever is eligible should take the vaccine and those aged over 60 years must take the precaution dose," Paul said.

He said some senior citizens are yet to get their first dose of vaccine. “We estimate that of 137.5 million (elderly) individuals, 122.5 million got the first dose. We want those who have been left behind to get vaccinated. Their vulnerability is a concern for us," the NITI Aayog member said.

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