New Delhi: As the number of active coronavirus cases surge to 1,764, and India’s death toll hits 50, over 800 scientists, academics and public health professionals appealed to the government to test more people for Covid-19, and prepare a post-lockdown plan to prevent the epidemic from bouncing back.
According to the scientists, while the lockdown can temporarily suppress the epidemic, with restricted testing the correct estimate of how many people have been affected by the infection is not clear.
The statement, signed by researchers from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Indian Institute of Science (IISc), the Indian Institute of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs), also urges the government to provide food and shelter to migrant workers attempting to walk back to their home, instead of using police force to restrict them.
Read the full statement here:
We are a group of scientists, academics and public health professionals.
The lockdown imposed by the government of India has allowed those who have the means to survive for 21 days and beyond, to stay at home to protect their health. But, for more than 90 per cent of the workforce, which is in the unorganised sector or informally employed in the organised sector, and especially for casual labourers who earn on a daily basis, the lockdown is both an immediate health risk and an economic catastrophe.
Since the lockdown has been justified by epidemiological considerations, in this statement, we would like to draw attention to some important epidemiological aspects of the lockdown.
A lockdown of society, by itself, is not a cure for the Covid-19 epidemic and it is a stratagem for winning some time for the healthcare system. Epidemiological models consistently suggest that, in the absence of other factors, the epidemic could bounce back once the lockdown is lifted. If this were to happen at the end of India’s lockdown, the epidemic would hit a society already under severe economic distress, with potentially devastating consequences.
Therefore, a post-lockdown plan is necessary that will ensure that the rate of new infections is kept low in a sustainable manner when the lockdown ends. While social distancing and better hygiene can help, these measures are insufficient by themselves. We are deeply concerned that the government of India has not released a roadmap, detailing how it plans to deal with the epidemic, once the lockdown is eased. We believe that such a plan should have been put in place before the lockdown was announced, and we urge the government to do so as soon as possible. Such a move would also enhance the confidence of people in the government’s long-term strategy.
More testing is necessary: The lockdown may succeed in temporarily suppressing the epidemic, at great social cost, but we are concerned that the government is not using this precious interval of time to actually identify as many cases of Covid-19 as possible. In particular, the current restricted testing-policy creates the risk that a large number of mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic cases — which constitute the majority of infections — will remain undetected even at the end of the lockdown period. These cases could easily serve as the nucleus for the epidemic to bounce back.
So, we urge the ICMR and the Government of India to take immediate steps to expand India’s testing regimen. We hope that recent advances in testing-techniques will allow India to follow the recommendations of the World Health Organization which has consistently recommended large-scale testing, followed by additional targeted measures as a possible method of controlling the epidemic.
Risks of a reverse migration: The exodus triggered by the lockdown also carries the risk that the virus will be rapidly carried to all parts of India, including those where healthcare facilities are the weakest. This can precipitate both an epidemiological and a humanitarian crisis. Rather than attempting to prevent the reverse migration, using the police, we urge the government to use its stocks of foodgrains and use urgent cash transfers to ensure the food-security and welfare of workers and ensure that they are not compelled to undertake long and unsafe journeys, which have already led to a number of deaths.
We earnestly hope that the government will take the concerns above on board. As members of the scientific community, we offer our complete support to the people and possible expertise in combating this disease and in ensuring that our country emerges from this difficult period with as little loss of life as possible.