New Delhi: India revised its guidelines Friday to allow testing of all severe pneumonia cases and high risk contacts of COVID-19 patients. But it will now need to follow this up with efficient quarantine and isolation, epidemiologist Giridhar R. Babu told ThePrint.
This could end up saving up to 10,000 lives, said Babu, professor and head of lifecourse epidemiology at the Public Health Foundation of India. However, if things do not change, with an exponential model of cases doubling every six days, India will have 600,000 cases by the end of May, Babu, told ThePrint.
Babu also praised PM Modi’s call for a ‘janata curfew’ from 7 am to 9 pm Sunday an “excellent move”.
As a democratic country, India cannot follow mandatory lockdown, as happened in China’s Wuhan, or the South Korean model, due to constrained resources. “Therefore, PM Modi’s rapport and support among masses is our greatest asset in preventing the community transmission,” he said.
India missed detecting local transmission
India has recorded its highest increase in the number of COVID-19 cases Saturday, with 315 confirmed cases reported. But India’s apex biomedical research body, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), has repeatedly said there is no evidence of community transmission in India.
Babu, who has worked with the Karnataka state health department, the Union health ministry and World Health Organisation, said an absence of evidence should not be confused with absence of infection.
“India definitely has missed detecting local transmission in some of the large states,” he said.
States that have a huge influx of business persons, tourists, students etc cannot say there isn’t a single positive case, said Babu, adding that states with a low number of cases should be reviewed by PM Narendra Modi and a high powered committee.
To look for transmission, we must look around diagnosed and missed cases.
“Before the travel restrictions were imposed and even afterwards, there are many who might have been tested negative (in incubation period) or missed by the system,” he said, adding that they should be tracked and every symptomatic patient should be tested.
We need to identify all the cases, not a few of them, to interrupt the transmission, said Babu.
Not testing to capacity
Babu also said is underutilising its testing capacity. India has tested 15,700 people in 72 state-run labs until 20 March. This means India is testing 90 samples a day, despite having a capacity of 8,000 samples per day, he pointed out.
However, this is soon set to change. Fifty more laboratories have been added to the 122 government laboratories allowed to test for COVID-19 cases. Fifty private laboratories are also expected to start testing.
Babu also said India would need to strengthen the surveillance system in the long run, as well as giving financial and administrative support to make ICMR and the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) autonomous, with funding like that given to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by the United States government, he said.