By Sunil Garodia
First publised on 2020-08-01 08:44:31
As unlock happens in phases across the nation and an increasing number of tests are carried out daily, India's coronavirus cases are seeing record additions every day. On the last day of July, 57000-plus fresh cases were reported and a record 6.4 lakh tests were conducted. But these figures will have little meaning if contact tracing and isolation are not carried out strictly. There is little evidence to suggest if that is happening at a scale necessary to prevent community transmission.
What is happening now is that people are being tested and, if found positive with mild symptoms, are being advised the mandatory 14-days home quarantine with necessary medication. Those with severe symptoms are being sent to hospitals. This is not enough. Contact tracing and chain testing is an absolute necessity to prevent the eruption of community transmission which is now said to be restricted to some pockets.
The government has rightly said that herd immunity is not an option for a country of India's size due to the size and density of the population. In that case, the only option is testing, contact tracing and isolation. Delhi has shown the way by doing all three things with efficiency and controlling the spread. But most states do not have the wherewithal to do so on the scale required. This results in the chain continuing without a break as contacts often go their way undetected and might spread the virus in other areas. Local and sporadic lockdowns are not very effective in breaking this kind of chain. Also, a visit to areas where wholesale markets exist shows that physical distancing norms are being thrown to the winds in non-sanitized conditions.
Experts had warned a long time ago that India will have between 30 to 50 lakh coronavirus cases by the end of September. The figures at the end of July suggest that these are conservative figures and might be exceeded. Then what should India do? Close down the nation again? That never was, and not is, a wise option. That was an initial response to ramp up the health infrastructure. It is expected that the curve will flatten, as it did after a huge rise in other countries, after September. But for that to happen, India will have to tighten its belt and rethink its policies on testing, contact tracing and isolation.
It is clear that India does not have the medical infrastructure to keep all infected persons in quarantine in public facilities. Hence, home quarantine and community quarantine (wherever possible) in building complexes (in community halls, for example) with SOP and strict implementation of standard health advisories is the next best way. Testing must also be prioritized for contacts of infected persons. The cost is making several families forgo testing if one family member is found positive. Instead, all of them are going under home quarantine. That is risky. The common refrain is that they have no symptoms. But asymptomatic carriers are spreading the virus more.
Laxity is being seen in strictly policing containment zones. Sanitization of spaces after someone is found positive is also not being done with the seriousness it demands. One knows that it is costly but the cost of having several more persons infected with coronavirus will be many times more. An all-round laxity is being seen. Several building complexes had purchased digital thermometers and dispensers for hand sanitizers. They were initially used strictly and sincerely. But now a sense of complacency seems to have crept in. These are dangerous signs and will hasten community transmission. All of us will have to rededicate ourselves to the mission of fighting Covid-19 with a renewed seriousness to prevent community transmission and a possible second wave.
Picture courtesy: outlook india