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COVID-19 fatality rate in India lowest among badly-hit countries: Govt


New Delhi, May 26: The COVID-19 fatality rate in India is 2.87 pc, the lowest among countries badly hit by the pandemic, the government said on Tuesday even as the death toll rose to 4,167 and the number of coronavirus cases climbed to 1, 45,380 in the country.

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Meanwhile, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said that no major side-effects of antimalarial drug Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) have been found in studies in India and its use can be continued in preventive treatment for COVID-19 under strict medical supervision.

Joint Secretary in the Union Health Ministry Lav Agarwal said from 3.38 per cent in April, the fatality rate in the country has come down to 2.87 per cent as against 6.4 per cent globally, and attributed the timely lockdown, early detection and management of coronavirus infection cases as the main reasons for the low death toll.

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    The country has been registering 6,500 new cases daily for five days in a row and is among the 10 top nations worst hit by the pandemic.

    "For India, the fatality rate is as low as 2.87 per cent, one of the lowest among countries which have reported high number of COVID-19 cases," Agarwal said.

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    Responding to a question on why the country's death rate is one of the lowest in the world, ICMR DG Balram Bhargava told a press briefing that there is no substantiative factor behind it.

    "We have surprisingly found a low fatality rate in India and which is a very good thing. Ultimately we are interested in a patient surviving whether he gets COVID-19 or not.

    "There are several hypothesis such as we are living in bad hygiene, have higher immunity and have been given certain vaccines like BCG and those for tuberculosis, but these all are hypothesis and we cannot say anything clearly on any factor," he said.

    Agarwal, however, said that the country's graded response to COVID-19 and timely identification of cases along with their clinical management played a major role in keeping the death rate low.

    "If cases are detected on time they do not turn serious and to the extent automatically the fatality rate will be low," he said.

    Responding to a question on whether we are declaring early victory by comparing fatality rate with other countries, Agarwal said, "We are not declaring any victory, if you remember we have always said that we are in a battle.Whatever relative success we get today we will lose if we relax. We are neither immune to the world nor to the virus."

    He also said that when they are showing the relative comparisons with other countries, it is not even comparing the differences of resources in which India has always acted upon.

    "We are not even taking into account that how densely populated we are as a country, with those additional constraints at our disposal. When we had started working, decisions were taken at the highest level at the right moment. When countries went ahead with a lockdown at relatively later stages, India went ahead with the lockdown.

    "We started working with every community, with every citizen and we brought them together in this battle. What we are trying to highlight is that we have been able to manage it so far but the battle is not over. It is along drawn battle and it will be successful when we have support from every citizen of the country," he said.

    Referring to the WHO Situation Report 126 dated May 25, Aggarwal said that France has a fatality rate of 19.9 per cent followed by Belgium at 16.3, Italy at 14.3, UK at 14.2, Spain 12.2, Sweden 11.9, Canada 7.6, Brazil 6.3, the US at 6.0, China 5.5 and Germany at 4.6 per cent.

    Further, India has 0.3 deaths per lakh population as against the 4.5 deaths globally, which is among the lowest in the world, Agarwal said.

    "This has been due to lockdown, timely identification and management of COVID-19 cases," the official said.

    When asked if there has been community transmission of the disease in the country, Bhargava said, "We have very clear cut containment areas which are red zones where the sero-prevalence is being studied and before the findings come out it would not be wise to comment on community transmission."

    Responding to a question over the WHO suspending the testing of the Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) in COVID-19 patients temporarily in its global study following safety concerns, Bhargava said no major side-effects of the drug have been found in studies in India and its use should be continued as prophylaxis for COVID-19.

    "We found there were no major side affects except for nausea, vomiting, palpitation occasionally. Hence in our advisory we have recommended that it should be continued for prophylaxis as there is no harm.

    Benefit may be there," Bhargava said adding it has been "clearly advised that HCQ should be taken with food, not on empty stomach".

    "We also emphasised that one ECG should be done during the treatment. We expanded use of HCQ from healthcare workers to front-line workers also, considering the potential benefits," Bhargava added.

    Sources said that the Union Health Ministry also shot off an email to WHO over the HCQ clinical trial issue. "It was conveyed to the WHO that perhaps all the reports have not been considered before suspending the trials. The same would be true of other drugs in the trial where differing reports are also coming and the ICMR which is leading the solidarity trials in India has also not been consulted," a source told PTI.

    Meanwhile, the Union health ministry on Tuesday suggested five states --Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh -- reporting a surge in COVID-19 cases over the last three weeks to analyse the trends in containment zones and adopt course correction measures through proper implementation of micro-plans.

    Union Health Secretary Preeti Sudan held a high-level review meeting through video conference with the chief secretaries, health secretaries and National Health Mission (NHM) directors of these states and asked them to focus on effective containment strategy such as perimeter control, diligent house-to-house survey through special surveillance teams, testing, active contact-tracing and effective clinical management.

    Referring to the WHO Situation Report 126 dated May 25, Agarwal said Belgium has 81.2 death per lakh population while Spain has 61.5 deaths per population and UK has reported 55.3 deaths per lakh population.

    Italy, France, Sweden, US, Canada, Brazil and Germany have 54.3, 42.3, 39.3, 29.3, 17.2, 10.5 and 10.0 deaths per lakh population respectively.

    Agarwal further said that while Belgium has reported 800.72 deaths per million, Spain, Italy , UK, France, US and Russia have reported 614.95, 542.24, 541.98, 434.59, 295.22 and 24.96 deaths per million respectively.

    "India has reported only 3.08 deaths per million. Further, the trajectory is relatively flat, there is no spike in the curve," Agarwal said showing a graph to present global perspective: death per million population (as per European CDC situation update dated May 25).

    The recovery rate has improved from 7.1 per cent in March when the lockdown was initiated to 11.42 per cent during the second phase and 26.59 per cent in the third phase to 41.61 per cent now.

    For every one lakh population, there are 10.7 coronavirus cases in India so far as against 69.9 globally. Spain tops the tally with 504.6 cases per lakh population followed by Belgium at 499.8, US 486.8, UK at 390.4, Italy 380.4, Sweden at 328.6, Canada at 226.9, Germany at 215.3 and France at 212.3 per lakh respectively.

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