The number of districts, types of patients to be surveyed, and the overall objective of the study will be finalised in the coming days.
ICMR officials have said in the past that random, syndromic surveillance of Severe Acute Respiratory Illness (SARI) patients can determine if the outbreak in India has entered the community transmission stage. Government has maintained that there is no community transmission in the country.
In the last ICMR study regarding syndromic surveillance released April 18, out of 5,911 SARI patients randomly tested for COVID-19 from February 15 to April 2, a total of 104 (1.8 per cent) tested positive for COVID-19 across 52 districts in 20 states and UTs.
The percentage of random COVID-19 positive samples among SARI patients across the country showed an incremental increase over the month-long period.
The study also found 36 districts in 15 states with patients who had no history of contact with a known case or international travel. “These districts need to be prioritized to target COVID-19 containment activities,” the study stated.
On Monday, Dr Randeep Guleria, AIIMS director and India’s top pulmonologist, told The Indian Express: “Many districts have very few cases or no cases for two weeks to a month..(to say there is) community transmission all over India would not be correct.”
On May 1, The Indian Express reported that officials in Karnataka were increasingly concerned about a spurt in positive cases amongst those turning up in hospitals with SARI with no travel or contact history.
On March 17, senior ICMR scientist Nivedita Gupta told The Indian Express: “We want to be sure that we are not missing community transmission. If I detect any positives in any of these labs (conducting SARI surveillance), I’ll step up the testing capacity for those particular areas where I am seeing community transmission. Then, it will be a completely different testing strategy where asymptomatic people get tested.”
At that point in time, when asked about the liklihood of community transmission, she had said: “If we slip on containment measures in any aspect, we will still have community transmission. From our surveillance mechanisms, we will pick up some amount of community transmission. It could be a small cluster of community transmission which, I think, can be alleviated through aggressive containment strategies.”
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