To rule out community transmission of Covid-19, over a thousand samples of influenza- or pneumonia-like illnesses, taken from patients without any travel history or contact with infected persons, would now also be tested for coronavirus every week.
Community transmission is when people begin to catch a disease from those who do not know they have the infection.
A network of 65 laboratories of the Department of Health Research and the Indian Council of Medical Research (DHR-ICMR) will now test 20 samples each week — 10 of influenza-like illnesses and 10 of severe acute respiratory infection — for Covid-19.
Senior ICMR scientist Nivedita Gupta on Friday said the exercise was being done to document if community transmission was happening in any region of the country. “We don’t want to do indiscriminate testing, but it is also important that we are not missing on community transmission… If we find a positive case anywhere then the strategies would be completely different,” she said.
India has also become the fifth country to isolate the virus after China, Japan, the US and Thailand, ICMR’s director general Dr Balram Bhargava said, adding that the strain of virus isolated is “99.99 per cent similar” to that in Wuhan.
With the virus now isolated, authorities can begin working on a vaccine for it. Bhargava said, “We have the virus available with us, and that can help us develop more rapid diagnostic kits and could pave the way for vaccine development in future, which is still far away and every country is working towards that.”
Bhargava said India has not reached the stage of community transmission yet, but countries like Italy, China, the US, and UK have entered it. “That’s why we feel that we will go through that stage too, but if we can prevent it, that window of opportunity is now… If we manage for 30 days, and community transmission does not happen for another 30 days we may be at a good wicket (a better position),” he said.
He said the measures taken recently, such as closure of cinema halls and schools and colleges in certain parts of the country, are precautions to entering into the community transmission stage of the virus.
Gupta added, “Even if community transmission happens, it can be a localised transmission, which can be immediately contained in a very aggressive manner… So it’s not essential that community transmission means that the entire country would be swept off. It could be localised and could be contained with appropriate measures.”