Mumbai: India must rapidly scale up testing of the novel coronavirus as it seeks to contain damage from the deadly outbreak, with one expert concerned that cases could double every two to three days in the densely populated country.
With a population of 1.3 billion, India has so far reported 75 cases though that number has more than doubled in a week. The country also confirmed its first virus-related casualty on Thursday — a 76-year-old man. The true extent of the outbreak is likely a lot worse, according to Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, a research group in Washington, D.C.
“India has far more infected cases out there than we know. Community transmission is already happening and we’ll know about those cases only if we test more,” he said. “Cases could be doubling every two to three days right now.”
The pandemic, which has infected more than 133,000 people globally and killed more than 4,900, has a pattern of exploding after an initial slower phase. This was seen in nations such as South Korea and Italy — the worst-affected countries outside of mainland China, where the highly contagious pathogen first emerged in December.
South Korea, which had a 2,000% jump in cases in a week last month, slowed the outbreak and deaths by testing hundreds of thousands of people in clinics and drive-through stations.
Unlike China, which locked down an entire province, India would find it hard to implement shutdowns of communities. It also likely will be hampered by overcrowded public hospitals, expensive private health care and a large migrant workforce.
Yet the keys to epidemic control remain the same for all countries, said Jessica Justman, a professor of medicine in epidemiology at the Columbia University Medical Center. She pinned it down to four elements — test, trace, isolate and inform.
Testing, in such a scenario, helps identify patients early, isolate them, and curb mortality as well as slow down the pathogen’s rate of transmission.
India should now aggressively move beyond containment into disease mitigation, Laxminarayan said, and push for social distancing.
“We know it’s a highly infectious pathogen. We know it’s in India. We know that people can be asymptomatic for a while,” he said. “We should probably start planning to convert a few stadiums in the cities to prepare them to serve as temporary hospitals.”-Bloomberg