India warns states of worsening COVID-19 situation if rules ignored


FILE PHOTO: A healthcare worker uses an oximeter to check oxygen level of passengers at a railway station, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Mumbai, India, February 22, 2021. REUTERS/Niharika Kulkarni

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India warned on Wednesday that a breach of guidelines on testing and other measures to contain the coronavirus could worsen a recent spurt in infections in many states, particularly after it detected several variants.

Nearly a month after the health minister declared that COVID-19 had been contained, states such as Maharashtra in the west and Kerala in the south have reported a surge in cases, as reluctance grows over mask-wearing and social distancing norms.

India's tally of infections stands at 11.03 million, swelled in the past 24 hours by 13,742, health ministry data shows, while deaths rose by a two-week high of 104 to 156,567.

"Any laxity in implementing stringent measures to curb the spread, especially in view of new strain of virus...could compound the situation," the health ministry said in a statement that singled out nine states and a federal territory.

India has confirmed the long-time presence of two mutant variants - N440K and E484Q - in addition to those first detected in Brazil, Britain and South Africa.

The ministry said that while cases in the states of Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Kerala, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab, as well as the federal territory of Jammu and Kashmir, were rising, the proportion of high-accuracy RT-PCR tests was falling.

The states were advised to boost testing, using a mix of RT-PCR and rapid antigen tests, while making sure all symptomatic negatives from antigen tests then go through PT-PCR tests, the ministry added.

In the past week, a third of India's 36 states and union territories have reported an average of more than 100 new cases each day, with Kerala and Maharashtra both reporting more than 4,000, in a trend experts link to the reopening of schools and suburban train services.

The government has also asked states to speed vaccinations for healthcare and frontline workers. Just about 11 million people have received one or two doses in a campaign that began on Jan. 16, versus a target of 300 million by August.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps)

(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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