Home / News / India /  Coronavirus spread slows but two states still a worry

The new year has brought further relief to the coronavirus pandemic in India. Daily new cases averaged less than 19,000 over the past week, the lowest in six months. The worst of the pandemic now seems limited to Kerala and Maharashtra even as the country gears up for the world’s largest vaccination drive.

Of the 128,604 cases India added in the last one week, more than a quarter (35,164) came from Kerala, shows latest data from the Union health ministry. Maharashtra contributed 20% of all new cases. The combined share of the two states has risen sharply because infections are abating nearly everywhere else. Chhattisgarh, the state with the third highest case-load last week, added only 7,046 cases (5% share).

With this, India has reported 10.39 million cases as of Thursday morning, of which 150,336 have died. A total of 228,083 patients remain under treatment.

In Kerala, the hints of a third wave last month did not sustain, but there are no signs of a slowdown either. Twelve of the 14 districts in the state added more than 1,000 new cases over the past week, shows data compiled by on Wednesday evening. Only 11 other districts, five of them in Maharashtra, hit the 1,000 mark.

Pathanamthitta in Kerala recorded the biggest weekly growth (11%) in cases, followed by Wayanad (8%) and Idukki (7%). But these growth rates are lower than recent weeks.

A low fatality rate nationally, amidst the slowing outbreak, means death counts have improved sharply. North 24 Parganas and Kolkata districts of West Bengal reported the most new deaths over the past week, both fewer than 50.

Kerala has some relief in terms of fatalities despite its raging infections. A total of 167 people died in the state last week, which is less than 11% of India’s total deaths. Maharashtra had more than double this toll. These two states, along with West Bengal, together made up 44% of the country’s deaths.

India has tested 12 million samples over the past two weeks, of which just 2% turned positive for the coronavirus. At its peak, the country’s positivity rate was 12%. For Kerala, this rate has been nearly 10% of late, way above the World Health Organization’s threshold limit of 5%. The state’s high testing rate is failing to curb the outbreak, and may need to be ramped up even further.

West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh also have a higher growth rate of cases than most other states, but have low testing rates. Higher testing will help the states determine the true spread of the infection. The end of Delhi’s third severe wave of infections on the back of high testing can serve as an example. The national capital’s positivity rate has now fallen below 1%.

Some countries, such as the UK, are suffering from fresh waves, but in most parts of the world, the discourse around the virus is now moving from despair to hope. So far, eight vaccines have been approved for use by high-priority groups around the world.

As of 6 January, over 15.5 million vaccination doses have already been administered worldwide, according to Our World In Data. At the top of the list is the US, which has administered 5.3 million vaccine doses, followed by China (4.5 million), Israel (1.5 million), and the UK (944,539). The number of people vaccinated is lower, as most vaccines require two doses spaced some days apart. Israel has the best vaccination rate, with 17 doses administered already per 100 people.

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While some developed countries have been able to secure enough of the approved vaccines to cover their entire populations, many developing countries haven’t purchased vaccines for everyone yet. India may be able to secure 1.3 billion doses of vaccines being produced in the country this year, but even that would cater to only half of its population due to the multiple dose requirement.

India last week approved the restricted emergency use of two vaccines—Covaxin developed by Bharat Biotech and Covishield developed by Serum Institute of India. Nearly 300 million people are likely to get the jab in the first phase of vaccination. This will include healthcare and frontline workers, and those above 50 years old, according to a government plan.

Vaccination drives across the world offer great hope after a tragic year. But the reality is that most people won’t get a shot for months. The new virus strain found in the UK has not been tamed yet, and infection risks remain. Tried-and-tested safety precautions will continue to be key.

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