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Virus pill: 3 masks and blanket scan

New Delhi, April 24: The Union health ministry today unveiled a multi-pronged strategy to deal with the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and set up a high-powered Centre-state joint action group to monitor day-to-day developments across the country.

The action group will comprise directors-general of health services from Maharashtra, Kerala, Bengal, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh and Nagaland and top officials of the ministry.

“We have chosen the states keeping in mind the traffic at the international airports,” health minister Sushma Swaraj said after a meeting with state health secretaries this afternoon. Civil aviation ministry officials also attended the meeting.

So far, India has reported four SARS cases.

The Centre has issued clear instructions to the states on how to combat the disease.

One of the most important components of this strategy is providing masks. Swaraj announced the Centre’s decision to make available three kinds of masks. The first — a three-layered mask — will come cheap at anything between Rs 3 and Rs 5.

“We have told the health secretaries that every employee at the international airports, from the sweeper to a high official, must be given these masks.”

The second variety, costing Rs 80, will be given to paramedical staff at airports. The third variety, “N 95”, priced at Rs 230 will have a filter.

The Defence Research Development Organisation has made a special mask. “This will cost Rs 2,000 and will ensure full protection,” Swaraj said. The Centre will provide 10 of these DRDO masks to the big states and five to the small states. All the masks will be available within the next two or three days.

“We have told the states to screen each and every international passenger. Forms must be distributed on the flight. Medical officers on duty at international airports must carry out a visual screening of passengers,” Swaraj said.

The Centre has also issued guidelines to the states on how to deal with suspected and positive SARS cases. If a person suspected to have contracted the disease is being treated in isolation in a hospital, the blood samples must be sent to either the National Institute of Communicable Diseases in Delhi or the National Institute of Virology in Pune.

The hospital must not discharge the patient unless it receives confirmation of the tests. An X-ray has to be done in case the patient is diagnosed positive but shows no clinical symptoms of the infection. If the X-ray is clear, the patient can be discharged from the hospital after two days. “Even after that, a 10-day quarantine period is advised,” Swaraj said.

N.K. Ganguly, director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research, said Raghunath Mashelkar, former director of the Centre for Scientific Industrial Research, has manufactured a drug that could be effective in combating SARS. “We have to test its efficacy for coronavirus. We will meet in Pune this Sunday to discuss the issue,” he said.

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