By Sunil Garodia
First publised on 2020-04-03 13:35:25
The government is reviewing the COVID-19 situation on a daily basis and taking appropriate decisions. In his video conference with state chief ministers on Friday, Prime Minister Modi talked of a coordinated lifting of the lockdown that would prevent a second outbreak. He also impressed upon them to stagger the lifting of the lockdown within the state. This would mean that the states will have to identify hotspots and extend the lockdown in those regions. This makes sense as some areas have reported too many positive cases and the infected persons or their contacts might spread the disease after lockdown if they move out on the relaxation of the restrictions. Hence it is better to keep them isolated for a longer period.
Travel restrictions should also be lifted in a staggered way, with all modes of transport to and from identified hotspots kept suspended till the situation improves. People need to be informed that the lifting of the lockdown does not mean that the need to fight the disease has decreased or that the situation has improved. Since the lockdown, many serious cases, like the Tablighi Jamaat case, have come to light and they have caused serious concern because attendees have spread out across the country and many of them have tested positive after reaching their respective states.
In the last 10 days of the lockdown, the government will have a clear picture of how the spread of COVID-19 has panned out across the country. It will know the problem states and within the states, the problem districts. These geographical areas will have to be monitored further and would need special attention. The list of these areas will keep multiplying as migrants will reach homes. Also, schools, colleges and other educational institutions may be kept closed for a longer period if the government feels.
As the Prime Minister said in the above meeting, testing, tracing, isolation and quarantine should be in focus for the next few weeks. The government is thinking of allowing rapid antibody (serology) tests as the first test (to be confirmed by an RT-PCR test using nasal or throat swab later) for symptomatic cases in hotspots. Symptomatic persons will have to remain under compulsory home quarantine even if they test negative in the serology test. Companies the world over are developing new kits for testing (Siemens Healthineers has already developed one to detect SARS-CoV-2, the source of COVID-19). The government can look at some of these and employ them in a limited way in hotspots where cases are multiplying rapidly.
It is now clear that the government is rightly expanding the testing protocol and is tackling the issue from all angles. Hindsight might allow some people to criticize some earlier responses of the government but all of them were made after studying experiences in other countries and on the advice of health experts. Now, with community transmission kept at bay, the need is to identify hotspots and prevent the spread from there. Also, all care needs to be taken to prevent newer hotspots from emerging by a coordinated and staggered lifting of the lockdown, as suggested by Prime Minister Modi.