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As the second wave ebbs, the focus of local authorities now shifts to meeting two quantitative conditions set by the centre as the baseline for districts to ease restrictions. These are a test positivity rate (TPR) --covid-positive tests as a share of total tests--of below 5% and vaccination of 70% of the vulnerable population. Government data on TPR shows that while the number of districts meeting the 5% norm is progressively increasing, two-fifths of districts are still above it. This suggests significant unlocking will take time and will be gradual. Among these 286 districts, 157 registered above 1,000 cases in each of the past two weeks.

While the weekly count of new cases is declining in a majority of these 157 districts, the 7-day rolling average of TPR is still above 5% in 138 of them. These districts account for about one-fifth of all districts and hold about one-third of India’s population. Further, among these 138 districts, 101 districts had a TPR above 10% and 17 districts had a TPR above 20%. Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Odisha have the most districts with a TPR above 5%.

In Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, all districts have registered a decline in new weekly cases. Across all districts in the country, Jaipur has seen the highest decline in new weekly cases but its TPR remains at 8.6%, having declined from 13.3% a week before. Chennai’s TPR has declined from a peak of 30% to 5.5% in the past week and Bengaluru’s from 35% to 5.75%.

Fewer Deaths

A drop in covid-19 deaths, typically, trails a drop in new cases. For the second straight week, the number of reported deaths fell. The decline was 23% over two weeks ago. There remain pockets of concern. For instance, the number of districts to report fewer deaths declined from 453 last week to 409 this week. Similarly, though Maharashtra’s total case and death numbers have been declining for the past four weeks, 14 of its 35 districts reported more deaths this week, including Nagpur and Pune.

Another example is Odisha, which continues to register an increase in deaths since the beginning of the second wave in early-April. In Odisha, 15 of its 30 districts showed an increase in deaths in the past week, including Cuttack and Mayurbhanj.

Earlier this week, Bihar added 3,951 covid-19 deaths, labelling them as “additional deaths after verification". This increased its total covid-19 death count by 72%

Vaccine Gains

Even as fewer new cases are recorded, the pace of covid-19 vaccination in India, though slow, is picking up. After six weeks of decline, it has registered an uptick for two straight weeks now. In the past week, India averaged 3.1 million doses per day. The increase is also more broad-based. In the past week, 23 of 35 states and union territories saw a weekly increase in doses administered, against 15 the week before.

Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Assam and Haryana were among states where the weekly vaccination pace dropped. Given the centre’s unlocking guideline of 70% vaccination among the 60-plus population and those with comorbidities, a drop in vaccination has greater implications for a Tamil Nadu or an Andhra Pradesh, which are at the bottom half in vaccine coverage. Tamil Nadu has given only 131 doses per 1,000 population and Andhra Pradesh 208 doses. By comparison, Himachal leads with 343 doses per 1,000 population.

State to Centre

In an U-turn, the central government this week went back to centralized vaccine procurement. It also placed orders with Indian manufacturers to buy another 440 million doses. In the past week, India registered a week-on-week growth of 8.3% in vaccine doses given. In the two weeks before that, it managed 7.4% and 5%, as per data portal Our World in Data. On growth, Japan leads this set.

China continues to make significant gains in covid-19 vaccinations, increasing its dose count by 15% in the past week. It has administered 36% of all vaccine doses worldwide, more than North America and Europe combined. India remains in the third position on this metric (10.5%), behind the US and China.

In order to match China and Japan in growth, India needs more vaccines in a big way. The pieces for that are being put in place only now.

www.howindialives.com is a database and search engine for public data

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