The Telangana government on Saturday decided to lift the coronavirus-induced lockdown in the state from Sunday while Karnataka announced further easing of curbs in 16 districts, including Bengaluru, which have shown less than five percent COVID positivity rate.
The relaxations came on a day the Centre issued a cautionary note to states and Union Territories, stating that the easing of the COVID-related lockdown norms has led to crowding in some markets and other places, and AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleria remarked that the third wave of COVID-19 cases can strike the country in the next six to eight weeks if COVID-appropriate behaviour is not followed and crowding not prevented.
Speaking to news agency PTI, Guleria stressed on the need for stricter surveillance and area-specific lockdowns in case of a significant surge.
The total number of cases in India rose to 2,98,23,546 with 60,753 new cases, while the toll mounted to 3,85,137 with 1,647 more fatalities, according to Union health ministry data updated on Saturday.
The number of active cases stand at 7,60,019, the lowest in 74 days, and active cases comprise 2.55 percent of the total infections. The national COVID-19 recovery rate has improved to 96.16 percent, the data updated at 8 am showed.
In Jharkhand, the state government directed the health machinery to be on high alert due to a surge in mucormycosis or black fungus cases. The state has 79 confirmed cases and 53 suspected cases as of Saturday, while 26 people have died of the disease. Mucormycosis is a fungal infection leading to prolonged morbidity and even mortality among COVID-19 patients.
Also on Saturday, the Tripura education minister Ratanlal Nath announced the cancellation of Tripura board Class 10 and Class 12 exams. Punjab too cancelled Class 12 exams due to the pandemic.
Telangana to lift curbs tomorrow
After over a month of imposing lockdown curbs to stem the surge of COVID-19 cases, the Telangana government on Saturday decided to lift all restrictions from Sunday and allowed even educational institutions to reopen from 1 July.
According to an official release, the state cabinet took decisions to this effect after examining reports submitted by medical and health department officials that COVID-19 cases have come down in the state and the virus is now under control.
The cabinet directed officials of all departments to remove all restrictions imposed during the lockdown.
The education department has been directed to reopen all categories of educational institutions from 1 July with students allowed to attend classes physically.
In view of the decision to reopen educational institutions, the state cabinet also asked the education department to prepare guidelines on different issues, including students' attendance and online classes and release them at the earliest.
Observing that the decision (to end the lockdown) was taken with the view that the livelihood of common people should not suffer, the state cabinet also sought support and cooperation from people, reminding them that COVID-19 precautions like wearing masks and maintaining social distancing should be followed.
Karnataka eases curbs in 16 districts
In a neighbouring Karnataka, chief minister BS Yediyurappa announced the easing of curbs in 16 districts with more than 5 percent positivity, reported news agency ANI.
According to a report by the NewsMinute, from 21 June, shops can remain open till 5 pm in Bengaluru Urban, Uttara Kannada, Belgaum, Mandya, Koppal, Chikkaballapur, Tumkur, Kolar, Gadag, Raichur, Bagalkot, Kalaburagi, Haveri, Ramanagara, Yadgir and Bidar districts.
In these districts, hotels will be permitted to operate till 5 pm for dine-in with 50 percent capacity (without AC and excluding alcohol); lodges, resorts, gyms will also be allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity.
Government and private offices will be allowed to function with 50 percent strength and buses and metro will ply with 50 percent capacity. Sports can take place without spectators and outdoor film shoots have been allowed.
According to the report, guidelines mentioned in the 11 June order will be applicable in 13 districts with a test positivity rate between 5-10 percent while in Mysuru, the only district with a positivity rate of more than 10 percent, curbs and relaxations will continue as is with essential stores open only till 10 am.
These rules will be in effect until 5 July and the night curfew and weekend curfew will remain in place.
Easing curbs led to crowding, says Centre
Referring to the easing of COVID-induced lockdown in several states, the Centre Saturday issued a note stating that relaxations have led to crowding in some markets and other places without adherence to norms, and urged states to ensure the "extremely important" five-fold strategy of COVID-appropriate behaviour, test-track-treat, and vaccination to prevent the spread of the disease.
In a communication to all states and Union Territories (UTs), Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla also pointed out that inoculation is critical to breaking the chain of transmission in the present scenario and advised all state and UTs to step up the pace of vaccination in order to cover the maximum number of people in an expeditious manner.
India was hit severely by a brutal second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in April and May, claiming a massive number of lives daily, with a shortage in oxygen supply at various hospitals adding to the woes.
However, the number of cases have shown a downward trend and the positivity rate has been going down in the last several days. From a daily case count of over 4 lakh, the number of new COVID-19 cases has been hovering around 60,000 in the last couple of days.
The home secretary said that with a decline in active cases, many states and UTs have started relaxing restrictions imposed during the surge in cases in the second wave.
"I would like to highlight that the decision to impose or ease restrictions has to be taken, based on the assessment of the situation at the ground level," he said.
He stressed that it is essential to ensure that complacency does not set in, and there is no let-up in adhering to COVID-appropriate behaviour, while opening up activities, the home secretary said.
"I, therefore, urge you to issue directions to district and all other authorities concerned, to keep a close watch on the situation, while activities are opened in a cautious manner, and to scrupulously ensure that there is no complacency in adhering to COVID-appropriate behaviour and in the test-track-treat-vaccinate strategy," Bhalla said in his communication to states and UTs.
AIIMS director too stresses on COVID-appropriate beahviour
In a similar vein, the AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleria said that until a sizeable number of the population is vaccinated against the coronavirus infection, COVID-appropriate behaviour needs to be followed aggressively.
"If COVID-appropriate behaviour is not followed, the third wave can happen in six to eight weeks. We need to work aggressively to prevent another large wave till vaccination kicks in," Guleria told PTI.
There needs to be an aggressive surveillance strategy in coronavirus hotspots and lockdowns in case of any significant surge. The moment a significant surge in cases is noted in a particular area and the positivity rate goes beyond five percent, area-specific lockdown and containment measures should be implemented, he said.
"However, a national-level lockdown cannot be a solution (to rein in the pandemic) keeping economic activity in mind," Guleria added.
Punjab, Tripura cancel Class 12 exams
In Punjab, education minister Vijay Inder Singla said it was not possible for the Punjab School Education Board (PSEB) to conduct Class 12 exams due to the challenges posed by the pandemic, adding that it will declare the results as per the pattern of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).
The PSEB will prepare the result according to a 30:30:40 formula based on the student's performance in Classes 10, 11 and 12, respectively.
Singla said the PSEB will be drafting the result based on an average 30 percent theory component of the best three performing subjects out of the main five subjects in Class 10 and 30 per cent weightage on the basis of marks obtained by the students in pre-board, practical examination in Class 11 and 40 percent weightage on the basis marks obtained in pre-board examination, practical examination and internal assessment in Class 12.
In the case of those who have changed stream after Class 11, the result of such students would be prepared as per weightage on the basis of the marks obtained in Class 10 and weightage on the basis of the pre-board, practical examination and Internal assessment obtained in Class 12, the minister said.
The Tripura education minister also announced the cancellation of Class 10 and 12 board exams. "However, if any student is not satisfied with the results, they can appear in the exam when the situation is conducive," ANI quoted him as saying.
In a related development, the Union education ministry released guidelines for parents and caregivers on how to provide support to children and facilitate their home-based learning at a time when schools are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The guidelines emphasised the need for parents to create a safe, engaging and positive learning environment for children, have realistic expectations from them, take care of their health and ensure a healthy diet, and also have fun, a statement from the ministry said.
MP to set up state-level COVID-19 pandemic research institute
Also on Saturday, Madhya Pradesh medical education minister Vishvas Sarang said the state government has decided to set up a state-level research institute for the COVID-19 pandemic and other diseases including, contagious ones, in Bhopal.
He said various degree and diploma courses will also be run by this institute and experts of various fields will be posted there.
Covid Severity Score software developed
The Centre on Saturday said that a new software " Covid Severity Score " has been developed to identify patients who require ventilator support as well as detect an emergency and intensive care unit needs early.
The software consists of an algorithm that measures a set of parameters and then identifies patients likely to require ventilator support in an intensive care unit (ICU), aid on time referral and make necessary arrangements before an emergency sets in.
It can also help in reducing hospital referral for those unlikely to require critical care support, thus freeing more beds, the Science and Technology Ministry said in a statement.
The software measures symptoms, signs, vital parameters, test reports and comorbidities of COVID-19 patient and scores these against the pre-set dynamic algorithm, thus allocating the CSS, the statement said.
Noting that sudden ICU and other emergency requirements during the pandemic have been a challenge for hospitals to manage, the ministry said timely information about such situations would help manage the health crisis better.
The algorithm has been developed jointly by the Foundation for Innovations in Health, Kolkata, with support from the Science for Equity, Empowerment and Development (SEED) division of the Department of Science and Technology, with collaboration from IIT Guwahati, Dr Kevin Dhaliwal, University of Edinburgh and Dr Sayantan Bandopadhyay, formerly WHO (SE Asia Regional Office).
The Union home secretary on Saturday also asked state governments to register cases and invoke the stringent Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Act, 2020, against those who assault doctors and healthcare professionals.
Monitor social media: Home ministry to states, UTs over assault on doctors
Bhalla's letter to States and Union Territories came following several incidents of attack on doctors and healthcare professionals in different parts of the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"You will agree that any incident of threat or assault on doctors or healthcare professionals may dampen their morale and create a sense of insecurity amongst them. This may adversely affect the healthcare response system," Bhalla wrote.
The home secretary said in the present circumstances, it has become imperative that strict action be taken against those who assault healthcare professionals.
"Institutional FIRs should be registered against assaulters and such cases should be fast-tracked. You may also like to invoke provisions of the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Act, 2020, where applicable," he said.
"I would also like to reiterate that a close watch be kept on any objectionable content in social media which may exacerbate such situations. Concerted efforts should be made through posters in hospitals, social media, etc, to emphasise the valuable contribution being made by doctors and other healthcare personnel in the fight against COVID-19," Bhalla said.
He said that in the earlier advisories, various remedial measures were suggested to check the recurrence of such incidents, including adequate security at healthcare facilities, especially at COVID-19 designated hospitals along with controlled and restricted access to the premises.
"Further, I would request that states and UTs may take these measures on priority and proactively engage with members of the medical fraternity to assuage their concerns," he said.
With inputs from agencies