With a record single-day surge of 18,552 cases, India's Covid-19 tally raced past 500,000 on Saturday as it added 400,000 infections in just 39 days to reach another grim milestone amid increased testing for the disease.
As the new cases rose by 100,000 in six days, a Union Health ministry official said the recovery rate has also steadily improved to reach 58.13 per cent. It was for the fourth consecutive day that coronavirus infections increased by more than 15,000.
The Covid-19 caseload zoomed to 5,08,953 with the addition of 18,552 cases in the last 24 hours, while 384 fatalities were also recorded during the same period, according to the Health ministry data. The death toll stood at 15,685, it said. India is in the fourth place in the global Covid-19 tally after the US, Brazil and Russia.
It took 110 days for coronavirus infections in the country to reach one lakh while just 39 days more to go past the five lakh-mark on June 27, an analysis of the data showed. The first Covid-19 case was recorded on January 30 in Kerala.
The data also showed there has been a surge of 3,18,418 infections from June 1 till 27. Unlock 1' came into effect from June 1 as part of the graded exit from the national lockdown that was imposed on March 25.
The number of active cases stands at 1,97,387 while 2,95,880 people have recovered and one patient has migrated, the data showed.
Noting that India's recovery rate is rising, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India is much better placed than many other nations due to lockdown and many initiatives taken by the government as well as a people driven fight. At the same time, he cautioned that people can't let their guard down yet.
"In fact, we have to be even more careful now. Wearing masks, following social distancing, avoiding crowded places remain important," he said addressing the 90th birthday celebrations of Rev Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan in Pathanamthitta in Kerala via video conference.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi while targeting the government on the Covid-19 situation alleged it has no plan to defeat the pandemic and that Prime Minister Modi has surrendered as he refuses to fight coronavirus.
"Covid19 is spreading rapidly into new parts of the country. The Government Of India has no plan to defeat it," Gandhi tweeted.
"PM is silent. He has surrendered and is refusing to fight the pandemic."
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), a cumulative total of 79,96,707 samples have been tested up to June 26 with 2,20,479 of them being analysed on Friday, the highest in a day since the beginning of the pandemic.
Medical experts pointed to the ramped up Covid-19 testing that is now available more extensively and at a reasonable price as a major factor for the massive surge in infections in the recent days.
Noted city-based lung surgeon Dr Arvind Kumar said definitely a big reason for the cases going up is increased testing.
But, also the percentage of people turning out to be positive from among those tested is also going up as due to lifting of the lockdown people have completely forgotten social distancing norms and are out on the streets with scant regard for the pandemic, said Kumar, who works at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.
Eight states including Maharashtra, Delhi and Tamil Nadu contributed 85.5 per cent of the active Covid-19 caseload and 87 per cent of the total deaths due to the disease in India, according to the Health ministry.
The ministry said it briefed the Group of Ministers(GoM) on Covid-19 on the coronavirus situation and the efforts to boost healthcare infrastructure.
"It was mentioned that presently eight states - Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Telangana, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal - contribute 85.5 per cent of active caseload and 87 per cent of total deaths in India," it said in a statement.
The ministry said it told the meeting that 15 central teams consisting of public health experts, epidemiologists and a senior joint secretary-level officer have been deployed to provide support to the states.
Another central team is currently visiting Gujarat, Maharashtra and Telangana to strengthen ongoing efforts for management of Covid-19, it said.
A serological survey to undertake a comprehensive analysis of the spread of Covid-19 in Delhi commenced in some parts of the national capital on Saturday. With 80,188 cases and 2,558 deaths, Delhi is the second worst- hit state after Maharashtra in terms of caseload and fatalities. Maharashtra has reported a total of 1,52,765 cases and 7,106 fatalities.
As part of the survey blood samples of 20,000 people will be tested to ascertain the presence of antibodies.
The exercise will be carried out jointly by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Delhi government and will be held till July 10.
"The serological survey has started from today and it will cover 20,000 people. The survey is being conducted door to door and it will reveal the extent of coronavirus spread in Delhi," Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said in an online briefing.
He also said the national capital is waging a difficult war against coronavirus pandemic and will emerge victorious, but it will take time.
An inexpensive, widely used steroid dexamethasone, meanwhile, was included in the treatment protocols for Covid-19 patients in moderate to severe stages of illness among other therapeutic measures by the Union Health ministry.
The updated protocol includes the advice to use dexamethasone as an alternative choice to methylprednisolone for managing moderate to severe cases of Covid-19. The change has been made after considering the latest available evidence and expert consultation, it said.
According to the revised 'Clinical Management Protocols for Covid-19', dexamethasone, which is already used in treating lung infections besides in a wide range of conditions for its anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant effects, can be used as an alternative to methylprednisolone which already existed in the treatment guidelines.
The health ministry on June 13 had also allowed the use of antiviral drug remdesivir for restricted emergency use and off-label application of tocilizumab, a drug that modifies the immune system or its functioning, and convalescent plasma for treating Covid-19 patients in moderate stage of the illness as an investigational therapy.
It also recommended hydroxychloroquine in patients during the early course of the disease and not on critically ill patients.
The use of these drugs continues to be included in the revised treatment protocols under the 'investigational therapy'.