‘Next 30 days key in fight against Covid-19’

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on March 13, 2020

India is safe if it manages to contain the virus at Stage 2, says ICMR Head

Socially distancing oneself from large crowds for the next 30 days may prove handy in battling Covid-19.

So far, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has confirmed 81 Covid-19 cases in the country. Ten persons have been cured so far while one has died.

Indian Council of Medical Research Head and Secretary of the Department of Health Research Balram Bhargava said India is at Stage Two of the pandemic wherein local transmission has occurred amongpersons who came into contact with those infected and had a travel history.

“Next is Stage Three when the virus spreads unfettered in the community, and then comes Stage Four, as in the case of Italy or China, when there are mass lock-downs. If India manages to contain the virus at Stage Two within the next 30 days, then, the progress to Stage Three could be slower or we may not witness it at all,” said Bhargava.

To understand if Covid-19 is spreading in the community, ICMR is testing throat swabs of limited populations in which patients report flu-like illnesses or chest infections for SARS-COV2 — the virus that has caused the pandemic.

Testing samples

“While 13 regional labs of ICMR were testing 20 samples each of this nature between February 15 and 29, we will expand our footprint to 51 labs which will now conduct these tests on a weekly basis. Till date, all the tests carried out as a part of the surveillance have been negative,” said Nivedita Gupta, Scientist, Epidemiology and Communicable diseases at ICMR.

National Institute of Virology’s Director, Priya Abraham, said India is the fifth country to have isolated the virus from patient samples. “In close to eight samples, the SARS-COV2 strain matches 98.99 per cent with the Wuhan strain,” said Abraham. Bhargava said this will help expedite the development of drugs, vaccines and rapid diagnostic kits in the country. The ICMR is working closely with the Serum Institute of India to develop a vaccine, but that will take another year or so, he added.

Government support

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has spent more than ₹5 crore to tackle the pandemic and is in the process of approving another ₹20 crore for this cause. Abraham added that the Germany-based Altona Diagnostics and India-based Molbio Diagnostics had approached the NIC with rapid testing kit models and the validation for these kits is under progress.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the Centre, State governments and various departments are continuously monitoring the situation.

“We are also ensuring that Indians who have travelled abroad are tested, monitored, and where possible, are brought back to the country,” said Sitharaman.

She added, “The global markets have severe volatility, and we are also consciously monitoring all of them. Serious repercussions are felt; we are conscious of the developments. Together with the Reserve Bank of India, we are closely monitoring it. We have held meetings with the concerned industries to address the issues.”

Published on March 13, 2020

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