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Is corona test a must for people with influenza-like illnesses? Government agencies not on same page

The guidelines by Union Ministry of Health and ICMR do not mention testing symptomatic people living in all high-density areas — as suggested by the document issued by the Principal Scientific Advisor

Published: 14th April 2020 06:49 PM  |   Last Updated: 14th April 2020 09:14 PM   |  A+A-

A technician prepares to collect a nasal swab sample from a new coronavirus detection test at a drive-thru testing facility in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Thursday, April 2, 2020. (Photo | AP)

For representational purposes (Photo | AP)

Express News Service

NEW DELHI: The trend of conflicting responses from different government agencies — seen very frequently as the nation deals with massive COVID-19 outbreak crisis - continues unabated, the latest being the confusion related to people suffering from influenza-like illnesses in densely populated areas.

The office of the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Centre on Tuesday released a guideline document outlining the precautions to be taken by people living in densely-populated areas.  

The document, among other things, said that those with influenza-like illnesses such as fever, chills, dry cough and runny nose “should immediately approach health workers such as ASHAs, Anganwadi workers or frontline workers” without really elaborating on what follows after that.

Under the testing guidelines by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Ministry and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), only those with history of international travel, their close contacts with symptoms, hospitalized patients with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients with symptoms and those in “hotspots and clusters” with ILI can be tested for the infection.

The guidelines by these two agencies do not mention testing symptomatic people living in all high-density areas — as suggested by the document issued by the PSA.

Meanwhile, Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, on being asked a question related to the advisory by the PSA K Vijay Raghvan, who heads an empowered group on science and technology related to COVID-19, gave a somewhat vague response.

“This guideline is meant for very densely populated areas like Dharavi in Mumbai. Once the ILI patients contacts frontline health workers they will inform their supervisors and arrangements can be made for them to be taken to dedicated COVID hospitals,” said Agarwal.

He, however, did not clarify how can such patients be straight away taken to dedicated hospitals without first qualifying for testing under the present testing norms laid down by the ministry.

Public health specialists, meanwhile, said that instances like the present one are examples of a complete lack of co-ordination between crucial arms of the government at the frontlines of the COVID-19 battle.

“The situation is quite chaotic as different agencies are speaking different languages on such basic things as testing,” said Dr Amar Jesani, a researcher in public health and medical ethics. “The least we expect the government to be is transparent and well-coordinated but unfortunately that does not seem to be the case,” he said.

This is not the first time that the Health Ministry has seemed to be a step behind the PSA. A guideline was issued by the PSA on homemade masks for everyone — even as the ministry kept insisting that not everyone needed a protective mask - which was adopted by the ministry a few days later.

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