The Union health ministry said it is “under acute stress” because of vacant positions in its Covid-19 team and asked the Department of Personnel and Training to fill them up on priority, PTI reported.

Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan, in his letter to the department on October 13, said that India cannot let its guard down even though Covid-19 cases in the country are declining.

“At this crucial juncture, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is required to put in extra efforts to ensure full preparedness across the country,” Bhushan said. “Vacant positions of one joint secretary and eight DS [deputy secretaries] / directors have put this ministry under acute stress.”

Bhushan said the vacancies were because either the officers had gone on study leave or were promoted or repatriated.

The health secretary had flagged the vacancies to the Department of Personnel and Training in August also.

India’s daily count of Covid-19 cases has reduced but health experts have warned that infections could surge again if people flout safety norms during festivals.

On Friday morning, India recorded 16,862 new coronavirus cases, which took the total number of infections to 3,40,37,592 since the pandemic began in January last year. The new cases were 11.19% lower than Thursday’s count of 18,987 infections.

The toll increased to 4,51,814 as 379 deaths were recorded in the last 24 hours.

Till Thursday, a total of 97,14,38,553 Covid-19 vaccine doses had been administered in the country.