Chennai/New Delhi: Is India in the community transmission phase? If one goes by ICMR's claim, we have still not reached that stage. However, with increasing evidence pointing to community transmission, healthcare experts have now urged the government to accept that the pandemic reached the community transmission stage "a long time ago".
Some leading experts like AIIMS former director Dr MC Mishra, virologist Shahid Jameel, lung surgeon Dr Arvind Kumar and epidemiologist Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil have come out in the open just two days after ICMR director-general Balram Bhargava was quoted as saying, "We have found that prevalence is less than 1 per cent in these small districts. In the urban areas, it may be slightly higher; in the containment areas, it may be slightly higher. But we are definitely, India is not in community transmission and I would like to emphasise it."
Experts have said that the virus is now spreading among population groups and localities that have little to do with travel or contact with travellers.
For instance, in Chennai, almost all slums have been reporting cases that have nothing to do with travel. Moreover, the city has been adding more than 1,000 cases every day for more than a week now.
But admitting the presence of a community transmission in India's fourth biggest city could be a public relations disaster for the Edappadi Palaniswami, who is looking to retain his chief ministership in the next year's Assembly election.
So, it came as no surprise that Palaniswami stuck to the ICMR DG's denial that there is no communal transmission in the capital city.
Yet, the rising number of cases in Chennai has led to to experts seeking a honest admission from the government, which could help get rid of the growing paranoia among people.
Top health department sources in the state told Deccan Chronicle that the official declaration on community transmission would be made only as per the guidelines of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). The government and health department will go by whatever instruction issued by ICMR to tackle virus spread, the sources clarified.
Former Union Health Secretary K Sujatha Rao had on Saturday tweeted: “Ministry of Health needs to step in and overrule ICMR and Niti Ayog and declare community transmission in Delhi, Mumbai and TN (Tamil Nadu).... Strategies will need to change. Sooner the better. Data to be put out in the public domain to reduce panic”.
Muliyil claimed that he had already said that community transmission had taken place in certain parts of the country.
"It’s up to governments to decide whether the time has come or not to make it public. If you go by the details of the cases in Chennai, many people in slums who don’t have travel history and foreign contacts got infected by the virus. That means community transmission has already taken place," he said.
Speaking on similar lines, Mishra stressed on the internal migrantion of guest workers during the lockdown.
"With the mass exodus and the country unlocking, it has become more rapid and the disease has reached areas where there were no cases. It is high time the government acknowledges it so that people become more alert and do not become complacent," Mishra told PTI.
According to Dr Faheem Younus, chief of infectious diseases, University of Maryland, the simple definition of community transmission is infection of virus to a person or a group of persons in an area who had no travel history or contacts foreign elements.
Jameel, in fact, based his argument of a community transmission in India on the ICMR's study itself. He said, "Even ICMR's own study of SARI (severe acute respiratory illness) showed that about 40 per cent of those who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 did not have any history of overseas travel or contact to a known case. If this is not community transmission, what is".
Kumar, however, seemingly chose to give the benefit of doubt to ICMR, while adding that at least cities like Delhi and Mumbai are clearly in the community transmission phase now.