Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan on Sunday said that it is possible that the number of coronavirus cases could surge during the winter, the Hindustan Times reported.

“SARS CoV-2 is a respiratory virus and the transmission of respiratory viruses is known to increase during the colder weather,” Vardhan said in his weekly social media interaction programme Sunday Samvaad. “Respiratory viruses thrive better in cold weather and low humidity conditions.” He also said that during winter, crowding in residences of people could lead to increased transmission.

Vardhan said that in European countries and the United States, the number of daily cases has risen as the winter has set in. “Hence, we are emphasising on the precautionary measures which are easy to follow,” he said. “No need to fear and shudder. Wear the mask and maintain social distancing. Prevention is better than cure.”

A report prepared by the National Centre for Disease Control has warned that Delhi should prepare for an increase of 15,000 daily coronavirus cases during the winter season. The government institute said that festive gatherings, seasonal illnesses and influx of patients from outside would add to the city’s tally.

With the festival season coming up, Vardhan also said that no religion or God demands that festivals be celebrated by putting lives in danger, NDTV reported. “There is no need to congregate in large numbers to prove your faith or your religion,” he said. “You can pray to your gods at your homes. I would suggest that all of you celebrate festivals with your families.” He asked people not to go out to pandals to pray, but do so at home.

Durga Puja, Dussehra and Diwali festivals will all be held in October and November. On October 6, Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan had said that there had been a “huge spike in cases in Kerala for several days and a lot of it has to do with the Onam festivities”.

‘Will prioritize certain groups for vaccination’

The health minister said that the Centre is planning to roll out the country’s first Covid-19 vaccine by prioritizing target groups, Mint reported. He said supplies of the vaccine would be limited to start with. “In a huge country like India, it is critical to prioritize vaccine delivery based on various factors such as risk of exposure, comorbidity among various population groups, the mortality rate among cases, and several others,” Vardhan said.

Vardhan said India is looking at the availability of several different types of vaccines. He said a single vaccine may not be suitable for all age groups. Vardhan added that the government has to ensure no glitches occur in vaccine delivery even at the last mile.

“The prioritisation of groups for Covid-19 vaccine shall be based on two key considerations: Occupational hazard and risk of exposure to infection, and the risk of developing severe disease and increased mortality,” Vardhan said. He also said that vaccines currently in trial in India are two and three-dose vaccines.

“Considering the large population size of India, one vaccine or vaccine manufacturer will not be able to fulfil the requirements of vaccinating the whole country,” he said. “Therefore, we are open to assessing the feasibility of introducing several Covid-19 vaccines in the country as per their availability for the Indian population.”

Vardhan had said on October 4 that the government is planning to vaccinate 20 to 25 crore people by July 2021.

India’s coronavirus count rose to 69,79,423 on Saturday as the country reported 73,272 new cases in the last 24 hours. The toll rose by 926 to 1,07,416. There are 8,83,185 active cases in the country. The recovery rate stood at 85.52%. India is the second-most infected country in the world behind the United States.