‘Now that lockdown has been announced, challenge is to trace COVID-19 patients’

Tabassum Barnagarwala
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Right now, we expect a confirmed case to declare close contacts. (Representational Photo)

Excerpts from interview with Anup Kumar Yadav, director, National Health Mission

South Korea has made details of coronavirus (COVID-19) patients public so that all contacts can come for testing on their own. Recently, Madhya Pradesh did the same for four new cases in Jabalpur and asked contacts to come for testing. Does Maharashtra plan to take that approach?

We have decided to maintain confidentiality of patients, which is also the central government’s directive. If it helps, in future we may change our approach but not right now. Declaring names has its pros and cons. If we declare names of patients, people in close contact will come on their own for tests and we will get all high-risk cases tested, it is true. But there is a lot of social stigma attached with this infection. Taking their names publicly may create privacy issues for them. Right now, we expect a confirmed case to declare close contacts.

Four private laboratories in Mumbai have received permission to conduct testing in the state. How soon can we expect them to start?

I think it will take a week for all four private laboratories to start testing coronavirus cases. It will take four to five days for them to arrange adequate manpower, procure kits, prepare machinery for testing. The price cap is predefined by the central government. Each test cannot cost beyond Rs 4,500.

Right now, only symptomatic people with a travel history and asymptomatic cases who had exposure to the virus can be tested. For others, it is necessary to get tested at this stage. This will burden the system. In government centres, Indian Council of Medical Research is supplying kits for testing.

What are the challenges that the state government is facing?

Social distancing was our biggest challenge. Now that a complete lockdown has been announced, our major challenge is to focus and trace COVID-19 patients. We have to aggressively trace them and bring them for tests.

That is the strategy right now. If all possible exposures are tested, isolated and treated, we will be able to cut the viral transmission. We are trying to use mathematical models to estimate how many are infected. But it is unpredictable. In Italy and Iran, the outbreak went out of control. In Japan and South Korea, cases were contained. We believe social distancing measures will help. From here, we will have a downward trend in cases.

Are we testing enough?

In such a scenario, we have to strategically put our resources to use. Kits, infrastructure, trained manpower are limited. We have to place our available resources strategically so that we can sustain for a long time to test people. In stage I, only travel-related people were getting tested, now in stage II, health workers, contacts and respiratory distress patients are being tested. We have six laboratories as of now, we can escalate testing in 10 to 15 medical colleges. Right now, our capacity is beyond 1,000 tests per day.