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One month into lockdown, less than 1% were exposed: ICMR antibodies survey

“This shows that the lockdown has been successful,” ICMR chief Dr Balram Bhargava said while presenting the results Thursday. The second phase of the survey is being carried out in containment zones.

Written by Abantika Ghosh | New Delhi | Updated: June 12, 2020 6:56:21 am
Niti Ayog member Dr V K Paul said that the sampling was done in the third week of May, and the results reflect the national situation till April 30 as it takes time for the antibodies to develop.

Less than one per cent of 26,400 people, randomly chosen from 65 districts with varied caseloads, were exposed to the coronavirus in the first month of the national lockdown, according to the first phase of a nationwide sampling to check for the pandemic’s spread via testing for antibodies.

Niti Ayog member Dr V K Paul said that the sampling was done in the third week of May, and the results reflect the national situation till April 30 as it takes time for the antibodies to develop.

“This shows that the lockdown has been successful,” ICMR chief Dr Balram Bhargava said while presenting the results Thursday. The second phase of the survey is being carried out in containment zones.

In the first phase, samples were collected from 83 districts, and data from 65 analysed so far. The districts were divided into four groups: zero cases, low incidence, medium incidence and high incidence. In every group, a minimum of 15 districts were selected and 400 individuals from each tested. A total of 28,595 households were part of the survey.

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In both phases of the survey, blood samples collected from the population are being tested for IgG antibodies. If a person is IgG positive, it means they were infected by the pathogen — in this case, the SARS-CoV2 virus — in the past.

“The data shows that we have been able to contain the virus. To keep the pandemic at these levels is a very big achievement. Also, fortunately in India, the mortality is very low,” said Paul, who described the exercise as the biggest ever immunological survey in the world on Covid-19. Bhargava, however, cautioned that while such low levels of exposure is “good news”, it also means that large sections remain susceptible, with people in urban slums having a 1.89 times higher risk of getting the disease as compared to those in rural areas.

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On April 30, there were 33,610 cases, with migrant movement on trains starting a day later. This would mean that as the survey continues, the numbers will keep changing. Bhargava said the indigenous “Covid Kavach” Elisa test is being used for the survey. “Our cases per lakh population is among the lowest. The number of deaths per lakh population is also among the lowest. These figures are reflected in the findings of the sero-survey as well… The infection fatality is a very low 0.08%,” said Bhargava, referring to the percentage of deaths among all people exposed to the virus.

Citing the results, Bhargava, who is also Secretary, Department of Health Research, denied any community transmission. “India is such a large country, prevalence is so low, less than 1% in small districts. In urban areas and containment zones, it is slightly higher. But we are definitely not in community transmission. We have to continue testing, tracing, tracking and quarantine, and containment, as we have found success so far with these measures… We have ramped up testing capacity to 2 lakh per day,” Bhargava said.

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Replying to a separate question on community transmission, Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Health, said: “If we get caught in grammar, the containment efforts are likely to suffer.” The remarks come at a time when Delhi is going through a sharp uptick, with the daily positivity rates hovering in the 25 per cent range and the Delhi Health Minister saying that the infection source could not be traced in 50 per cent of the cases.

Sources, meanwhile, said that a “revised treatment protocol will be out any time now” in which the limited use of remdesivir will be allowed along with tocilizumab, an immunomodulator, in severely ill patients. Hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin will continue to be used, too, sources said.

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