Focus on the curve
Reducing the pace of new infections depends on locating hotspots through accurate data
- As India prepares to partially relax the national lockdown for COVID-19 in zones that do not have high concern, from April 20, attention is focused on how successful ‘flattening the curve’ of infection has been.
- The growth in total cases was slower than during the preceding comparison period — 16% versus 28%.
- Delhi has ramped up tests per million people and also reported a higher percentage of positive cases, compared to populous West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh which have done far fewer tests and yet find a higher share of positive cases.
- The most recent ICMR data appear to show a spike — 2,154 new cases in a single day reported on April 18.
- These are clear pointers for the Centre and States, as they try to reconcile public health and economic measures to alleviate the deep distress and damage caused to millions.
- Given the uncertainties surrounding the long-term effects of SARS-CoV-2 on people, including medical outcomes for those who have recovered from severe infection, India’s COVID-19 strategy has to focus on testing, containment and treatment on the one hand, and distress alleviation for vulnerable sections on the other.
- From a medical perspective, it has laid bare the inadequacy of the public health system to roll-out enough tests in all States, to determine where containment measures would achieve the best outcomes, and also to provide intensive treatment for acute respiratory illness.
- The testing data generated by all laboratories should be complete and shared in real time transparently by the Centre to aid policy-making.
- As psychologists are pointing out, the response to HIV testing over two decades ago dramatically improved when people saw hope of treatment, got access to tests and were protected against stigmatisation and xenophobia.
- Flattening the curve will require clear messages on preventive health, and steps to help people maintain strict quarantine where indicated without suffering economic losses, and carry out regular surveillance testing and symptom monitoring.