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COVID-19 expert panel calls for rapid testing of random people in every district

The panel has suggested that districts with less than one per cent prevalence of the infection, if well prepared medically, can gradually be allowed to exit the lockdown

Published: 16th April 2020 08:13 PM  |   Last Updated: 16th April 2020 08:32 PM   |  A+A-

A healthcare worker collects swab sample of a policeman for COVID-19 test during the nationwide lockdown in Ahmedabad

A healthcare worker collects swab sample of a policeman for COVID-19 test during the nationwide lockdown in Ahmedabad. (Photo | PTI)

Express News Service

NEW DELHI: An expert group of epidemiologists and infectious disease experts appointed by the government has proposed conducting rapid antibody tests on random people -- even non-symptomatic ones -- in every district, including those categorized as non-hotspots or green districts, periodically to assess the extent of COVID-19 infection in the country.

The panel has suggested that districts with less than one per cent prevalence of the infection, if well prepared medically, can gradually be allowed to exit the lockdown while those with higher prevalence or not prepared medically should continue to be under lockdown -- full or partial.

The group on surveillance and epidemiology headed by community medicine expert Dr D C S Reddy, under the national task force on COVID-19 management, had been tasked with coming up with evidence based medical parameters that will determine whether a full or partial lockdown is imposed in various districts in the weeks ahead.

The proposal, set to be finalized by the expert group by Friday, seeks to use rapid antibody tests to sample people in random households in each district.

“What we are saying is that one person from 400 households in all districts can be sampled every two weeks using the local level Integrated District Surveillance Programme or frontline health workers,” a member of the group told The New Indian Express.

“This will allow a very focused intervention on the part of the government to concentrate on areas that need to be monitored and require a full or partial lockdown,” he added.

Under the government’s existing testing policy, only those with international travel history, their close contacts, healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients, those hospitalised with severe acute respiratory illnesses and patients with influenza like illnesses in hotspot areas are being tested.

The government is now also set to start surveillance in areas categorized as hotspots by using rapid antibody based kits that will give it an idea about the extent of disease progression in red zone districts. On Wednesday, the government had published a list of 170 hotspot districts -- 123 with large outbreaks and 47 with clusters -- in the red zone category.

There are also 207 other districts where at least one case has been recorded while in 325 districts there are no cases registered at all.

“We want periodic surveillance even in green zone districts but of course that will also depend on the availability of rapid antibody testing kits,” another panel member said.

The coronavirus cases in the country thus far have been the result of carrying out diagnostic tests in a very selective number of suspects, but the panel members feel that might not be enough.

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