Coronavirus | Isolation is India’s best weapon: ICMR

Lockdown is the most important step in breaking virus transmission, says its Director-General

March 22, 2020 10:12 pm | Updated March 23, 2020 02:51 am IST - NEW DELHI

Lockdown advantage: With people away from the roads during the ‘Janata Curfew’ on Sunday, Fire and Emergency Service personnel spraying disinfectants in Ahmedabad on Sunday.

Lockdown advantage: With people away from the roads during the ‘Janata Curfew’ on Sunday, Fire and Emergency Service personnel spraying disinfectants in Ahmedabad on Sunday.

Isolation, and not indiscriminate testing, is the only way India can limit the spread of COVID-19, Balram Bhargava, Director-General, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said on Sunday.

A lockdown is the most important step in breaking transmission of the infection, he said, adding that the State governments have now been directed to earmark hospitals specifically to accommodate COVID-19 patients.

India on Sunday reported a total of 376 cases and seven deaths, show Union Health Ministry data, with 14,90,303 persons screened at airports so far. The ICMR noted that it had tested over 16,109 individuals, and over 7,000 were currently under surveillance.

Professor Bhargava told presspersons that testing had been scaled up with 111 labs offering COVID-19 tests. Also, four of 60 online applications received from the private sector to test for the virus had been approved.

“There has been no delay in allowing private labs to test. The idea was to put in place enough safety nets to prevent any accidents to medical personnel handling this highly infectious virus,’’ he said.

Highlighting testing facilities available and the spread of the virus, Professor Bhargava said that very few drug trials across the world were working currently.

“India in the past one week has tested 5,000 samples and has the capacity to scale up to 50,000-70,000 tests a week. Compared to this, France tested 10,000 a week, the U.K. 16,000 a week and the U.S. 26,000 a week. The virus test can be positive between two and 14 days and 80% people experience only mild symptoms and 55% need hospitalisation. But we are dealing with a highly infectious and unknown virus, so isolation is our biggest weapon,” he said.

R. Gangakhedkar, scientist at ICMR, said India was in no way working against World Health Organization (WHO) norms, and the focus now was on breaking transmission. “We are right now not in a position to say that community transmission is happening; maybe, by Tuesday, we will have a clearer picture,” he said.

Ventilators ordered

Responding to the issue of national hospital infrastructure, Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary, Union Health Ministry, did not give specific numbers of beds and ventilators available. He said that India had placed orders for 1,200 ventilators. “We have enough stock of personal protection equipment and have asked the States to use all their resources to ensure that the poor and disadvantaged groups don’t suffer. Our approach is preventive while being prepared,” he said.

Meanwhile, Thyrocare, Mumbai, Suburban Diagnostics, Mumbai, Metropolis Healthcare, Mumbai, Sir H.N. Reliance Foundation Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai are the first four private labs to get clearance to test for the novel coronavirus, SARS-Cov-2, which causes COVID-19.

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