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View: India needs more than curve-flattening curbs

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High-risk areas should be tested first, followed by universal screening to detect community spread. By Nilanjan Banik & Samik Basu

India, especially its 120 million migrant workers, have been facing unprecedented hardship during an economic shutdown and nationwide lockdown necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The lockdown, however, has been necessary to enforce social distancing and flatten the curve of contagion.

To make it successful, though, a lockdown should be universal and complete, while allowing the transport and delivery of essential supplies like food and medicines. The army, with its prowess for disaster and relief management, should step in to monitor the security and delivery of these supplies.

Migrant labourers and the homeless should be provided shelter and food in small groups in large convention halls, schools, parks, and stadia. Each camp should have a medical centre or clinic. Also, the places of residence of migrant workers in their home towns and villages should be identified, and the local district magistrate should be responsible for people maintaining self-quarantine.

On the screening front — as on April 7, India has tested only 140,293 people (102 tests per million people), despite having a much higher population than the US (6,078 tests per million people), South Korea (8,996) and Britain (3,929) — GoI should make it mandatory for any person suffering from an upper respiratory tract infection, and/or a history of travel, to undertake rapid ‘finger prick’ antibody tests. The test is inexpensive and can be used for initial screening. The data gathered can be collected via a mobile application that can be analysed by artificial intelligence (AI) means to detect high-risk areas.

High-risk areas should be tested first, followed by universal screening to detect community spread. Once screened, areas can be demarcated into three zones: red, orange and green depending on the number of Covid-19-positive cases. These zones will be transitional as the recovery rates increase with time. Localised travel and relaxation of lockdown can be conducted in the green zones, if and when areas attain that status.

Hospital care will depend on the initial triaging – prioritising the treatment — of patients. Hospitals should be separated into three categories: with ventilators and intensive care units (ICUs); without ventilators but high-flow oxygen devices; and with moderate care to only quarantine patients. Railway coaches are already being turned into isolation wards.

Drug trials and vaccine development should be the priority of all pharmaceutical companies. 3-D printing of PPEs should be conducted at all automobile and defence equipment manufacturing companies. Many drug manufacturers are ‘drying up’ and medical stores are running out of supplies because of distributors not being able to reach retailers because of the lockdown. The supply chain has to be kept up and running on a priority basis.

While keeping in mind the necessity of lockdown, for the sake of livelihoods and lives, the nationwide lockdown has to be eased out in a phased manner.

Banik is professor, Bennett University, Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh. Basu is consultant paediatrician, Calcutta Medical Research Institute, Kolkata


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