The masses must diligently comply with the nationwide lockdown to decelerate the spread of coronavirus as the country runs the risk of getting into the community transmission stage of the contagious disease if people violate quarantine norms, many health experts have warned. Doctors at the country’s leading hospital groups also cautioned that the lockdown would only “slow down the multiplication of the virus” and in this period India must bolster its health infrastructure including COVID-19 testing facilities to meet greater challenges later.
Dr Arvind Kumar, lung surgeon at the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital (SGRH) here, explained why “the only way” to slow down the virus’ transmission is to follow the lockdown diligently. “Thousands have come back from foreign countries recently and many of them are yet to be traced. Many are not going for screening and many home quarantined are also roaming. Then, the poor are migrating from one place to another so there is a risk of carrying infection. Can the government put security guards outside the houses of all these people? It’s a 1.3 billion-strong nation,” he said.
Insisting that the demography and geography of India is very different from other coronavirus-affected countries like the US, Italy or South Korea, Dr Kumar said there is “fear” in the medical fraternity that if the lockdown norms continue to be violated by people, the infection could spread in the community beyond known contacts. “I would say the the first four steps should be to isolate, isolate, isolate and then test, detect, treat and follow-up, if the case worsens. The need of the hour is rigid social distancing, and people must understand its seriousness,” the lung surgeon said.
Dr Vivek Nangia, Director of Pulmonology department at Fortis hospital here, echoed Kumar’s opinion and said, “This pandemic is worse than a war situation’. “As in a war, people must follow the order of the ‘General’, the government in this case, and stay home and not venture out unless it is an emergency. We are still in stage 2 of transmission as the government has said, and this lockdown can be very effective in slowing down the cases,” he said.
Dr Nangia added that if people follow the lockdown “religiously”, the effect will show after two weeks or so. He said the 21-day lockdown has been implemented to “push the epidemic curve” down so that India has time to make other medical interventions before the situation goes out of control. “We are into stage-2 of COVID-19 transmission and this lockdown period will give the government, other health authorities and various stakeholders time to boost our preparedness to combat this outbreak effectively and get more testing kits and other facilities,” said Dr Kumar, Chairman, Centre for Chest Surgery at SGRH.
Dr Rajesh Chawla, pulmonologist at Apollo Hospital here said the lockdown should be obeyed and all government and WHO health guidelines have to be followed if India wants to effectively fight the coronavirus outbreak. The death toll due to COVID-19 has risen to 17 in the country and the number of coronavirus cases has climbed to 724, the Health Ministry said on Friday morning.
The Health Ministry on Thursday said there has been no solid evidence of community transmission of COVID-19 in India yet and the infection appears to be relatively stabilising considering the rate at which it is increasing. At the same time, it said the latest figure of positive cases does not establish a clear trend and the government is in no way relaxed about anything at this point.
Dr Raman R Gangakhedkar, head of the Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases department at Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) had said, “Going by one or two cases, we cannot say there has been community transmission. Also, why should we hide if there has been a community transmission?” Dr Kumar, also founder trustee of Lung Care Foundation, cautioned that “one infected person can spread the contagion to three more persons, which then increases in a geometric progression”. “So, you can imagine the threat India is facing if people violate lockdown and roam around, especially the affected ones. It will be so difficult to trace contacts then,” he added.
Kumar also warned that sometimes a COVID-19-positive person may not have fever but regular flu symptoms with breathlessness, and it is important for such people to be self-isolated.
Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the health ministry on Thursday said he is hopeful of containing the spread of the coronavirus by social distancing policy, conducting proper contact tracing of positive cases and by ensuring that all those in home quarantine are monitored. Adding a note of caution, Agarwal said the community transmission phase of the disease will begin if the community and the government do not work collectively and follow the set guidelines of social distancing, home quarantine and treatment.