Updated: April 1, 2020 8:43:29 am
With the identification of 10 COVID-19 “hotspots” in different parts of the country, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) has scaled up its fight against the virus. Two of these places, where the MoHFW will focus on an intensive containment strategy, are in Delhi — Dilshad Garden and Nizamuddin. Noida and Meerut in Uttar Pradesh, Mumbai and Pune in Maharashtra, Kasaragod and Pathanamthitta in Kerala, Ahmedabad in Gujarat and Bhilwara in Rajasthan will also come under the ambit of this strategy. The government’s plan, reportedly, is to implement “rigorous surveillance measures” in these areas. Given that, in the last 10 days, the infection seems to have spread rapidly from pockets such as Nizamuddin and Bhilwara, the move to give special attention to areas with a high caseload is welcome. The new plan is also timely because 227 cases and five deaths were reported on Monday. The MoHFW intends to “step up testing” in these areas. The salience of this move cannot be overstated, especially because India’s low rate of testing has led to fears of community transmission. The country’s healthcare authorities must now ensure that due procedures and protocols are followed in identifying coronavirus cases in the hotspots.
Till March 19, only people who showed symptoms of a COVID-19 infection after international travel, and the people they had come into contact with, were deemed eligible for a test. On March 20, the Indian Council of Medical Research expanded this regime to extend testing to all hospitalised patients who had pneumonia-like symptoms. The new criteria also covered asymptomatic direct and high-risk contacts of a confirmed case — they are tested once between the fifth and 14th day of coming in contact with the patient. The new protocol has led to an appreciable increase in coronavirus tests in the country — from less than 7,000 on March 19 to more than 38,000 on Monday. The number of testing laboratories has also increased to more than 150 on March 30, from 56 on March 19. Even then, India’s testing rate — about 28 tests per million of population — compares poorly with that of some of the leaders in the fight against the virus. South Korea, for example, has tested 6,800 people per million of its population.
The government, so far, has not announced any new protocol for testing in the 10 hotspots. It is unclear, therefore, just how it plans to bring an appreciable number of people in these areas under the ambit of its testing centres. Global experience, most notably of South Korea, has demonstrated the importance of transparent methods in the fight against COVID-19. As India intensifies its fight, healthcare officials must not lose sight of the imperative of building trust in the country’s healthcare system. They must take the people in the hotspots into confidence about their methods and protocols.
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