Police personnel at check points, building security guards, airport staff, bus drivers and staff, vegetable vendors and pharmacists have been identified by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) as “frontline workers” who need to be tested for Covid-19 if they show flu-like symptoms. This is in addition to healthcare workers, paramedics and returning migrants.
As per the revision of testing strategy on May 18, “all symptomatic (ILI symptoms) health care workers /frontline workers involved in containment and mitigation of COVID19” need to be tested for the Novel Coronavirus (SARS-CoV2). ILI or influenza-like symptoms are the symptoms associated with flu such as fever, sore throat, body ache.
Symptomatic healthcare workers were eligible for testing from the very start, but inclusion of other frontline workers was the big takeaway of the last testing strategy revision. However, a document drawn up by the ICMR on the general way forward on testing shows how widespread that definition is set to become.
Apart from paramedics and healthcare workers, the full list includes: “Security staff at buildings both private and Govt, Police personnel manning checkpoints/ roads (In certain industrial areas/ business establishments), airport staff, Air India team involved in the evacuation, migrant labourers returning to States, bus driver and associated staff, Certain category of shops like – pharmacist, vegetable vendors, banks, etc.” The last three are particularly in congested areas of cities and high-incidence/containment zones.
The Covid-19 outbreak in India is currently concentrated in cities, with 70% cases and deaths in 10 cities.
However, sources said, the ICMR’s list has been drawn up with an eye also on identifying emerging hotspots. “We have to gradually move to testing ‘frontline’ workers as per the expanded definition. This is the way forward. This document has been drawn up also with special focus on the eastern region where testing facilities are limited and authorities are still getting used to the containment and contact tracing drill,” said a source. The document also reiterated the general testing principles such as RT-PCR being the gold standard and antibody tests being good for surveillance.
It is also partly with this expanded definition in mind that ICMR is looking at ramping up testing capacity to 2 lakh a day. A lot of the fresh testing is expected to be from the eastern states where infrastructure is scarce. Seventeen testing laboratories each are being set up in Bihar and Odisha, 27 in Uttar Pradesh and 36 in West Bengal.
The Ministry of Health on Tuesday held a meeting with Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, UP and MP, asking for states to take care of the immediate health needs of migrant workers by activating existing health infrastructure such as Ayushman Bharat health and wellness centres and complete enumeration at the village level of comorbidities if any.