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India is in the throes of community transmission, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan finally admitted, although many public health experts have long claimed that the country has already entered the so-called stage 3 of transmission.

The community transmission is still limited only to certain districts and states, the minister said during his weekly interaction on the social media programme “Sunday Samvaad" in response to a query regarding a statement by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. The chief minister had recently said that there are instances of community transmission in her state.

“In different pockets across various states, including West Bengal, community transmission is expected to occur, especially in dense areas. However, this is not happening across the country. It is limited to certain districts in limited states," Harsh Vardhan said.

No mutation of coronavirus has as yet been detected in India that is either more transmission efficient or more pathogenic, he said.

An infection is considered to have reached community transmission, or stage 3, when authorities are unable to find the source of infection for many cases or tests during randomized surveillance yield many positive results. Several states at different times have admitted the occurrence of community transmission of covid-19, but the central government did not. In July, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had confirmed that community transmission was taking place in Poonthura and Pullivila, as well as some other parts of the state. Assam also indicated chances of community transmission around July-August.

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However, the Union health ministry in a standard operating procedure note for emergency medical relief released in March said, the covid-19 pandemic was in the stage of local transmission and “limited community transmission". The central government, however, kept on denying widespread community transmission in its press briefings on the covid-19 situation.

The total tally of covid-19 cases in India has crossed 7.5 million, and the death toll has ballooned to 114,435. Harsh Vardhan warned that India may pay the price for non-adherence to appropriate covid-19 behaviour with winter setting in and festivals around the corner.

The health minister cited the case of Kerala, which had reported just 499 cases and two deaths because of covid-19 between 30 January and 3 May. “Kerala is paying the price of gross negligence during the recent Onam festivities when state-wide unlocking of services, along with an increase in inter- and intra-state travel for trade and tourism, led to the spread of covid-19 cases across various districts," he said. “This ought to serve as a good lesson for all state governments that were negligent in planning for the festival season."

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