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Cabinet secy writes to states: Gap in number of arrivals, those under watch flagged

India, meanwhile, has announced that it will participate in a global drug trial anchored by WHO that is looking for a medicine against the disease.

People wait for the arrival of a vehicle to carry gas cylinders in Lucknow.

Cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba, in a letter to chief secretaries, has flagged the gaps in the numbers of people being monitored by state governments and the numbers of people who arrived in India till March 23.

India, meanwhile, has announced that it will participate in a global drug trial anchored by WHO that is looking for a medicine against the disease.

In his letter to the states, Gauba wrote, “We initiated screening of international incoming passengers at the airports with effect from 18th January 2020. I have been informed that upto 23rd March 2020, cumulatively, Bureau of Immigration has shared details of more than 15 lakh incoming international passengers with the states/UTs for monitoring for COVID-19. However, there appears to be a gap between the number of international passengers who need to be monitored by the states/UTs and the actual number of passengers being monitored. This may seriously jeopardise our efforts to contain COVID-19, given that many amongst the persons who have tested positive for COVID-19 so far in India have history of international travel.”

This gap in monitoring, officials say, could mean that a possible infection source has escaped the government net and is out in the open, potentially infecting many others. Though they are reluctant to use the phrase, this is classically how community transmission begins.

A total of 1.4 lakh companies have allowed employees to work from home and the government has reached out to PSUs for 40,000 ventilators. “One PSU has been asked to make 10,000 ventilators, another 30,000 will come from Bharat Electricals, a PSU under the defence ministry,” said Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the Ministry of Health. The Home Ministry has reiterated its missive to states, asking them to take care of migrant labourers. “States have been asked to take care of the needs of migrant labourers so that they stay where they are…. They have also been asked to maintain cargo movement,” said Punya Salila Srivasatava, joint secretary, Ministry of Health.

India, meanwhile, has decided to participate in a global drug trial anchored by the World Health Organization to look for a medicine against COVID-19. The trial, called SOLIDARITY trial, will test the antiviral drug remdesivir — a combination of HIV drugs lopinavir and ritonavir; lopinavir and ritonavir plus interferon beta; and the antimalarial drug chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. Interferons are compounds crucial to generating an immune response in the body.

Dr R R Gangakhedkar, head of epidemiology and infectious diseases at ICMR, said on Friday, “We have decided to participate in the SOLIDARITY trial. Earlier we did not have enough patients but now that we do, we will be a part of the global trials.”

So far, Argentina, Bahrain, Canada, France, Iran, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland and Thailand have signed up for the trial.

Dr Gangakhedkar also said India is in the process of procuring 3.4 million more probes for testing and there should not be any concerns on that count. He also clarified that India is trying to get test kits from everywhere, including China, but the 7 lakh serological testing kits being procured have “limited application in the future”. “It will give results only after a few days of infection,” he said.

In an early morning notification, the Ministry of Health put hydroxychloroquine — a drug recommended by ICMR for use in health workers and caregivers in direct contact with a COVID2019 patient — on Schedule H1 of the drugs and cosmetics act. This means that the drug cannot be sold without a valid prescription and with a box label that using it without consulting a doctor can be dangerous. In addition, patients need to maintain a separate register on the sale of these drugs.

In a statement, ICMR said: “A total of 27,688 samples from 26,798 individuals have been tested for SARS-CoV2 as on 27th March 2020 9:00 AM IST. A total of 691 individuals have been confirmed positive among suspected cases and contacts of known positive cases.”

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