For every Covid-19 patient in Delhi, two contacts were traced and isolated between March and September 2020, which sharply rose to 14 during the rest of the year. This is as per official figures obtained by The Indian Express through the Right to Information Act. The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), with which the RTI application was filed, said that between March and December 27, as many as 40,96,410 contacts of 4,63,422 patients were traced in total, of which 1,17,981 tested positive.
The improvement in contact tracing between September end and December is reflected in data — between March and September 22, when Delhi had 2,05,014 positive cases, 4,29,766 contacts were traced. Between September 23 and December 27, 2,58,408 cases came up and 36,66,644 contacts were traced.
The low rate of contact tracing possibly explains why a large number of cases between March and September 22 went undetected, official figures show. During this period, only 28,624 contacts who tested positive could be isolated.
During the later period, due to enhanced contact tracing, as many as 1.18 lakh positive contacts could be isolated.
A break up in numbers shows that contact tracing figures improved uniformly across all 11 revenue districts of the capital. For example, Southwest district — which had 58,661 infections till around December 31 and comes second in terms of district-wise case count — managed to trace 36,192 contacts between March and September. The same district traced as many as 5,97,274 contacts between late September and December 27. Out of all the contacts it traced and isolated in total, 2.46 lakh were tested out of which 21,964 were positive.
However, data also shows that only in a fraction of the cases did district surveillance teams manage to trace contacts of positive cases within 72 hours. Out of the 40.96 lakh contacts, only 1.19 lakh were traced within three days, according to DGHS data.
Delhi government officials said that initially, teams managed to track down over 10 people per infected patient but tracing figures dipped as cases surged. “Figures once again improved towards the end, especially during the third wave of the virus in November. The wave could be contained to a large extent due to enhanced contact tracing and isolation,” said a senior official.
According to central government guidelines, persons with a history of close proximity to Covid positive patients are identified as contacts. Among this category, those with co-morbidities are categorised as high-risk and the rest are grouped as low-risk. High-risk contacts are advised home quarantine for 14 days. Data shows that 33,48,468 contacts finished 14-day home quarantine till December 27.
Why contact tracing?
Health experts around the world have stressed on the importance of tracing and testing to tackle the pandemic as not isolating potential Covid-19 suspects carries the risk of exposing more people to the virus. According to the Covid-19 protocol for contact tracing, asymptomatic, direct and high-risk contacts of a confirmed case should be tested once “between day 5 and day 14 of coming in contact”. It also says that low-risk contacts “does not mean no risk contact and equal emphasis must be given for low-risk contacts as they are potential sources for transmitting the disease”.
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