Amidst a record surge in the number of novel coronavirus cases, Andhra Pradesh has ruled out the re-imposition of a lockdown and is insisting that a focus on testing will help contain further spread of the disease.
The number of those infected in the state has increased over 10 times from a month ago — from 14,595 on June 30 to 1,40,933 on July 31. With that, it has overtaken Delhi’s tally to become the state with the third highest caseload in the country, after Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.
Only Karnataka has had a comparable increase in this period. Karnataka’s cases increased from 15,242 on June 30 to 1,24,115 now, a seven-fold rise. But Andhra Pradesh’s rise on the Covid graph has been much more dramatic, making it the fastest growing state for two weeks now.
On three consecutive days – July 29, 30 and 31 – Andhra Pradesh reported more than 10,000 cases each day, with 10,376 new cases on July 31. Not even Maharashtra, which has been reporting the maximum number of new cases every day, has recorded more than two consecutive days of 10,000-plus new cases. In fact, on July 29 and 31, Andhra Pradesh’s number was higher than that of Maharashtra. It was the first time since the outbreak began in Maharashtra in the middle of March that any state had reported more numbers.
The Andhra Pradesh government has been maintaining that the surge in numbers was due to increased testing, and that the tests would be scaled up even further, as that was the only way to identify and isolate those infected and slow down the spread.
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“There are no other options. We are doing targeted testing among vulnerable groups such as people with co-morbidities, and elderly people, and also people like vendors or industrial workers who could be at heightened risk. Quarantining the infected persons, either at home or at isolation centres, or providing treatment in case of serious symptoms is the only solution,” said Dr Arja Srikant, the state’s Covid-19 nodal officer.
Testing as strategy
Andhra Pradesh is hoping that as it steps up testing, and identifies and isolates infected people, it will be able to slow down the spread of the infection. The strategy has worked well in Delhi. But not so much in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu or Uttar Pradesh.
Officials also said the testing was focused on neighbourhoods where migrants had returned recently or in areas with positive cases. Apart from collecting swab samples at designated labs and hospitals, the government has converted state transport buses into swab collection centres.
While it is true that Andhra Pradesh has stepped up its testing in July, it was never a laggard at conducing the diagnostic tests. By the end of last month, it had tested more than 8.9 lakh samples. Only Tamil Nadu (11.7 lakh) and Maharashtra (9.6 lakh) had conducted more tests at that time. In July, however, Andhra Pradesh conducted more than 10 lakh additional tests. But then, every state has been able to test greater numbers in July because of the availability of rapid antigen and Trunaat tests.
State government officials claim the tests are much more targeted now. As a result, more positives are being detected. But in the long run, they hope, this will help in slowing down the spread, just like it has happened in Delhi.
Despite the extraordinary rise in cases, the state is ruling out re-imposition of lockdown.
In fact, the state is all set to reopen tourist places from August 15. Tourism Minister Avanti Srinivas told The Indian Express that popular tourist destinations such as Kailasagiri in Visakhapatnam, Bhavani Islands in Krishna River near Vijayawada, boating in Krishna and Godavari rivers, and the temples in Tirupati, Simhachalam and Srikalahasthi will resume shortly.
“As we have seen earlier, a lockdown will serve no purpose. Once a lockdown has been lifted, it cannot be enforced again because it will cripple the economy. Instead of that, we are enforcing strict quarantine in containment zones,’’ said state Health Minister A K Krishna Srinivas.
The state has also ramped up the number of beds for Covid patients. As on July 31, 40,000 beds had been made available in 128 hospitals, including several private ones.
The state has ordered 90,000 doses of the anti-viral drug Remdesivir and orders have been issued to recruit about 17,000 doctors, nurses and other staff over the next few weeks. Special Chief Secretary (Health) Dr K S Jawahar Reddy said additional posts have been created for better healthcare services.
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