In a statement on March 5, India’s ministry of health and family affairs made a startling claim about the spread of coronavirus in the country. “In addition to COVID-19 cases related to travel, some cases of community transmission have also been observed,” it said. COVID-19 refers to the latest outbreak of coronavirus that began in China in December 2019 and has killed more than 4,000 people across the world.
Community transmission is said to take place when the source of infection for a large number of cases in an area cannot be traced: when individuals pick up the infection without having travelled to countries where the virus is circulating or having been in contact with known confirmed cases.
The Indian Express noted the significance of the health ministry’s statement: “This makes India part of a small group of countries, including China, Japan, Italy and South Korea, where community transmission of the virus has taken place.”
But a week after the statement was released, health officials now deny India has experienced any community transmission of the coronavirus. So far, the government has confirmed 73 cases of coronavirus in India.
“Luckily for India, we do not have community transmission,” said Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the health ministry, at a press conference in Delhi on March 12. “We have only a few cases that have come from outside and have primarily infected their family members.”
When a journalist attending the conference read out the ministry’s March 5 statement, Agarwal said: “It is not community transmission, it is local transmission.” He went on to explain: “When all the cases can be traced [to confirmed cases], then from a technical perspective it can be called local transmission. Now, when this local transmission becomes so huge that cases cannot be traced, then it is called community transmission.”
“God has been kind,” Agarwal said. “We are not in the stage of community transmission.”
This is an important clarification, even though experts say detecting community transmission requires mass testing which India is not currently doing.
Mapping the spread of coronavirus in the country would at the very least require information on how each of the 73 people who have tested positive for coronavirus in India contracted the disease – whether by travel abroad, or through contact with those who had travelled.
In fact, until March 9, the health ministry’s updates regularly noted the travel and contact history of most of the confirmed coronavirus cases in the country. Since then, however, official information has been missing for several cases.
Scroll.in has compiled all the information made publicly available by the health ministry. Of the 73 confirmed cases reported in the country so far, the travel and contact history of 29 cases is yet to be officially made known by the health ministry.
Scroll.in contacted Manisha Verma, director of media and communications at the health ministry, seeking details of the travel and contact history of these 29 cases. Verma directed us to the ministry’s website and press releases. When told that the details were not available on the website or in the press releases, she did not respond further.
This story will be updated if the health ministry shares the details.
First coronavirus case confirmed.
A student from Kerala who was studying in Wuhan, China.
Second coronavirus case confirmed.
From Kerala, with travel history to China.
Third coronavirus case confirmed.
Also from Kerala, with travel history to China.
Two fresh cases confirmed.
One case from Delhi, with travel history to Italy.
One case from Telangana, with travel history to Dubai and contact history with a person from Singapore.
Number of cases around India rises to five.
One fresh case confirmed: An Italian tourist in Jaipur.
21 Italian tourists and three Indians who had come in contact with them moved to an ITBP facility in Chhawla in Delhi.
Total number of cases rises to six.
Seven fresh cases confirmed.
One is the wife of the Italian tourist who had tested positive in Jaipur.
Six people are from Agra – family members of the Delhi confirmed case.
Number of countrywide cases is 13.
Sixteen fresh cases confirmed.
Fourteen Italian tourists and one of the Indians brought from Jaipur to the ITBP facility test positive.
One fresh case confirmed in Delhi, also having travel history to Italy.
Total number of cases rises to 29.
One fresh case confirmed.
From Delhi-NCR with travel history to Iran.
Number of cases goes up to 30.
Three fresh cases confirmed.
Two from Ladakh, with travel history to Iran.
One from Tamil Nadu, with travel history to Oman.
Number of cases rises to 34.
Five fresh cases confirmed.
All five from Kerala: Three family members with travel history to Italy, two family members who came in contact with them.
Total number of cases across India is 39.
Five fresh cases confirmed. No travel or contact history given by the health ministry.
One case from Ernakulam, Kerala
One from Delhi
One from Uttar Pradesh
One from Jammu
One from Punjab
Number of cases in India rises to 44.
Six fresh confirmed cases.
Three cases reported from Bengaluru, with travel history from the US via Dubai.
One more case from Bengaluru, with travel history from US via Heathrow.
Two cases from Pune, with travel history from Dubai.
Number of cases in India stands at 50.
Ten fresh cases confirmed. No travel or contact history given by the health ministry.
Eight cases from Kerala
One from Rajasthan
One from Delhi
Total cases in India is now 60.
13 fresh cases confirmed. No travel or contact history given by the health ministry.
Three cases from Uttar Pradesh: one case in Lucknow with travel history to Canada, according to media reports.
One case from Ladakh, with travel history to Iran, according to media reports.
Nine cases from Maharashtra. These cases include two couples that travelled to Dubai recently, and three others who came in contact with them, according to media reports.
Number of cases across the country stands at 73.