Harsh Vardhan Admits to Community Transmission; What Does it Mean?

The government has finally admitted that there is community transmission of the virus in certain districts.

3 min read
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For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic struck India, the government has finally admitted that there is community transmission of the virus in certain districts and states.

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said during his sixth episode of ‘Sunday Samvaad’,

“In different pockets across various states, including West Bengal, community transmission of COVID-19 is expected to occur, especially in densely-populated areas.”
Harsh Vardhan

Vardhan was responding to a question by a participant on West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's remark that there are instances of community transmission in her state.

"However, this is not happening across the country. Community transmission is limited to certain districts, occurring in a limited number of states," he said.

In the nine months of the pandemic in India, the government has consistently denied any community transmission, pointing out that the World Health Organisation has not given out a specific definition for the same, and that what India had been seeing are ‘localised outbreaks’ and ‘clusters’. Experts, however, have been commenting on the very real possibility of the country having entered community transmission long back.

In May, Dr K Srinath Reddy, Chairperson, Public Health Foundation of India, in an interview with FIT, had spoken about why India should not shy away from the word.

"They are describing it as local transmission and saying it is coming from foreign travellers, their contacts and their secondary contacts and so on and so long as they are able to trace those contacts, they feel it is local transmission. But we should not fight shy as a nation of facing the prospect of community transmission. Every country has gone through, at some level or other, some form of community transmission. The virus is going to stay with us."

He added, "Till the time a vaccine arrives that offers a much larger protection. But the fact that community transmission is inevitable is something we all must recognise and proceed with that."

In July, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had released a guidance document which had inadvertently revealed that community transmission happened in India as early as April.

The document was later taken down from the website of the union health ministry, according to an IANS report.

What is ‘Community Transmission’?

Harsh Vardhan Admits to Community Transmission; What Does it Mean?

Broadly, there are four stages of a virus, as FIT had earlier decoded. Stage 1 is when the virus travels from other high-risk countries with COVID-19 outbreaks to India in the form of ‘imported’ cases. The second is of ‘local’ transmission’ when the virus is transmitted only to those in close contact with an infected patient. The cases remain within close family members or acquaintances.

Contact-tracing and timely isolation can help limit the spread of the virus during these stages.

Stage 3 is community transmission, wherein a person does not have to have travelled to high-risk countries, or be in direct contact with an infected person to become infected.

Here, the circle of transmission becomes so huge that doctors cannot trace where you got the virus from.

In this phase, contact tracing is not sufficient in containing the spread of the disease, because any individual, regardless of their travel history or contact with an infected person, is at risk of infection. The origin or the source of the infection cannot be known.

(Subscribe to FIT on Telegram)

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