New Delhi: With Covid-19 cases in the country crossing the 5.6-lakh mark this week and India entering Unlock 2, the Narendra Modi government has asked states and union territories to ramp up “testing and contact-tracing” capabilities.
The government, according to a letter sent to all states and union territories Wednesday, has called “test-track-trace” a key strategy for early detection and containment of the pandemic, and stressed that it is the “only way to detect the infection early and prevent the spread”.
The letter has been marked to chief secretaries, administrators, advisers to governors and Lieutenant Governors across states and UTs.
The Centre has advised the states and union territories to do away with the mandatory requirement of a prescription from a government doctor to undergo Covid-19 test. It has even advised them to use mobile vans and set up camps in areas of higher incidence of disease to collect samples.
The government, in the letter written jointly by Preeti Sudan, secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and Dr Balram Bhargava, director-general, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), has asked the states to pay “equal attention” to contact-tracing along with high testing.
The morbidity and mortality, the letter noted, have been “relatively low in most parts of the country, as compared to many other countries in the world.” However, “the virus has been spreading to newer areas”.
Focus on contact-tracing
The government, in the letter, has pulled up some states for not doing “contact-tracing” appropriately. It, however, didn’t mention those states.
“It has been observed that in some states delineation of the containment zone and contact-tracing has not been undertaken with the rigour and meticulousness that is required,” the letter said. “You may like to review the aspect at the earliest and take the necessary corrective measures.”
The government’s letter comes a day after the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that the Covid-19 pandemic is “speeding up” and the “worst is yet to come”.
Ghebreyesus has criticised governments that have failed to establish reliable contact-tracing mechanisms to stop the spread of the virus.
He said the solution to the virus continues to be the same: “Test, trace, isolate and quarantine… If any country is saying contact-tracing is difficult, it is a lame excuse.”
Make testing easier, remove impediments
The letter said: “It has been observed that in some states/UTs, the capacity utilisation of the testing labs, particularly the ones in the private sector, is grossly sub-optimal.”
The Centre has “strongly advised” that the states, UTs “should take all possible steps to ensure full capacity utilisation of all Covid-19 testing laboratories”.
The government has also advised states/UTs to remove the “mandatory need of a prescription of a government doctor for making an individual eligible to undergo Covid-19 test”.
It said in the letter that “in view of the increased load on government healthcare facilities, this mandatory requirement may at times pose an impediment for an individual to get tested and lead to unnecessary delays”.
“It is absolutely necessary to facilitate testing at the earliest by enabling all qualified medical practitioners, including private practitioners, to prescribe Covid test to any individual fulfilling the criteria for testing as per ICMR guidelines,” according to the letter.
“It is requested that impediments, which restrict testing, may be reduced. State authorities must not restrict an individual from testing as early testing will help in containing the virus and saving lives.”
Set up mobile vans to increase testing
To ramp up testing, the letter said “efforts should be made in camping mode by setting up camps, using mobile vans in high incidence areas to collect samples of all symptomatic patients as well as their contacts and get those samples tested by using rapid antigen test”.
It advised that all positive individuals should be treated according to the treatment protocol and negative ones should be tested via RT-PCR tests.
“The rate for RT-PCR test by private labs should be finalised,” it said, while adding: “It should be mandatory for all labs to upload the testing data on ICMR database as well as report to state/district/city authorities for surveillance and contact-tracing.”