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Community transmission of COVID-19 in India?

Herd Immunity and community disease spread or immunized population with infected people as infectious contagious virus spreading in society in a 3D illustration style. Community transmission illustration. Image credit: lightwise / 123rf
Image credit: lightwise / 123rf

The Union Government has seemingly confirmed “limited community transmission” of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in India but said the country is not in the third stage of the COVID-19 outbreak yet.

The current scenario of the COVID-19 pandemic in India is local transmission with limited community transmission. This acknowledgement came in standard operating procedure guidelines outlined by the Government to emergency medical relief personnel such as ambulance drivers and technicians. However, officials have said this designation should not be taken as India moving into the third stage of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Concerns over community transmission of the virus had earlier been expressed by state health ministers including in Delhi and Maharashtra. The National Health Authority (NHA) expressed at the time the need to be prepared for community transmission of COVID-19. 

Community transmission refers to an individual testing positive for COVID-19 without having had contact with a confirmed patient or a travel history to a country affected on a large scale by the pandemic. With the confirmation of at least “limited community transmission” in the country, authorities are being seen by the press to downplay what this entails for the virus and officials have said that the current trends do not substantiate the notion of large-scale community transmission. 

According to Dr Raman R. Gangakhedkar, the head of epidemiology and communicable diseases at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), “some people didn’t even reveal that they tested positive while others hid their travel history. Till we see a significant number of cases to indicate community transmission, let us not overinterpret things.” 

Joint secretary in the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Lav Agarwal said “we can consider that we are in the community transmission stage only when there are about twenty to thirty percent [of] cases with no clue on how they got the virus. If India enters that stage, we will not hide it. We will tell people so that we can step up the level of alertness and awareness.”

Aggarwal clarified to reporters of the wording in the standard operating procedure guidelines. “I would like to reiterate that we are still in local transmission,” he said. “If we enter community transmission we will [be] the first ones to tell you. Community [as a] word used in the government document is in a particular context. It is nothing like that we are in that stage. We are presently in local transmission.” 

Social distancing is being employed on a mass scale in India to curb the spread of COVID-19. The Government imposed a universal lockdown over a 21-day period last week, effectively confining the overwhelming majority of Indians to their homes. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of the risk of community transmission. ‘Countries should be preparing for sustained community transmission,” said Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Our message to all countries is: this is not a one-way street. We can push this virus back. Your actions now will determine the course of the outbreak in your country.” 

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