A World Health Organization report has shown that India continues to label itself as a country with no community transmission despite registering the highest number of cases in the world each day, The Hindu reported on Thursday.

WHO’s weekly report published on May 11 showed that India opts for “cluster of cases”, a lower and less dangerous classification.

Community transmission happens when coronavirus cases reported in the last 14 days cannot be linked to a specific cluster and when there are multiple unrelated clusters of cases, according to the global health body. States and countries are expected to classify themselves appropriately.

The majority of countries, including the United States, France, Brazil and the United Kingdom, have labelled themselves as being in community transmission. Besides India, only Italy and Russia are the countries in the top 10 list of the most confirmed cases that are not labelled under community transmission. However, both these countries are reporting a drop in infections for at least a month and together contribute less than 20,000 cases each day.

On the other hand, India has reported more than 3 lakh cases a day every day for the past three weeks, since April 22. On Friday, India registered 3,43,144 new coronavirus cases, pushing the tally in the country to 2,40,46,809 since the pandemic broke out in January last year. The toll climbed by 4,000 to 2,62,317.

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Further, India’s national positivity rate is around 21%. About 533 of the 734 districts have reported positivity greater than 10%. Twenty-four states have over 15% positivity and 10 have more than 25%, according to the health ministry data on Thursday. Lockdown or restrictions in at least 18 states also shows that no place in the country is safe.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, India has not labelled itself as being in community transmission. The closest the government got to acknowledging community transmission was Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan’s statement at an online meeting in October. “...In different pockets across various states, including West Bengal, community transmission is expected to occur, especially in dense areas,” he had said. “However, this is not happening across the country. It is limited to certain districts occurring in limited states.”

Dr Jacob John, epidemiologist and Professor, Christian Medical College, Vellore, told The Hindu that denial to admit community transmission had a bearing on how authorities handled the problem, besides being an indicator of failure.

When a place is classified as “cluster of cases”, the government would focus on testing, contact tracing and isolation to contain the spread of infection. But in community transmission, the government focuses on prioritising treatment and issuing advisories to protect its citizens.

“We may have been in community transmission since last April,” John told The Hindu. “Testing continues to be useful for forecasting the future course of the pandemic [through random tests] and preparing for it.”

He said that testing is useful if there is a specific course of treatment that can be prescribed when a person contracts the infection. “However, that’s not really why the government seems to want to avoid the term,” John said. “It just makes us look stupid.”