Coming to terms
Centre, States must enforce virus containment measures, assuming community spread
- On April 9, the ICMR and Health Ministry researchers — some of them are national task force members for COVID-19 — in a journal paper, provided evidence suggesting the prevalence of community transmission in 36 districts across 15 States.
- The sentinel surveillance for community transmission undertaken by the task force among patients hospitalised for severe acute respiratory infection (SARI) found 40 of the 102 who tested positive for the virus had no travel history or contact with a known positive case, while data on exposure was not available for another 59 SARI patients.
- While there has been no hesitation in declaring local transmission caused by people who have a travel history, the government has been extremely hesitant to admit community transmission.
- The reluctance is surprising given that the total cases reported so far has already crossed 63,500, and the nature of spread is through droplet transmission and contact with contaminated surfaces.
- One reason why India refused to confirm community spread early on could be the compulsion to expand testing when the country did not have the capacity to test huge numbers each day.
- Against this background, the latest decision to initiate a study in 75 hotspot districts to confirm community spread and ascertain the proportion of community already exposed to the virus is encouraging.
- The study had apparently got delayed by about a month due to the non-availability of reliable rapid antibody tests.
- Due to the unreliability of rapid antibody test, the government will instead use the ELISA test to check for infection.
- Since the ELISA test detects antibodies to the virus, the survey will be able to pick previously infected people including those who were asymptomatic for the entire duration of the infection.
- Meanwhile, all States should continue with strict containment and mitigation measures, acting on the assumption that the virus has indeed spread in the community.