20 hotspots in country
As India’s overnight count of coronavirus patients spiked by 432 to reach 2,069 on Thursday, the health ministry said the country had “20 hotspots and 22 potential hotspots”.
Health authorities signalled plans to introduce a new rapid-testing strategy to help them assess the scale of the spread of the infection within the hotspots, but declined to name the sites.
The health ministry had until 6pm on Thursday cumulatively recorded 2,069 coronavirus patients, with 15 additional deaths, raising the death toll to 53. The number of patients to have recovered has been put at 156.
The states with the largest numbers of patients are Maharashtra (280), Kerala (238), Tamil Nadu (227), Delhi (144), Rajasthan (105) and Uttar Pradesh (97). Health officials have said that areas with large clusters of cases or with high population density are labelled hotspots.
The standard protocols for cluster-containment strategies in hotspots involve demarcating areas around the cluster of cases as containment and buffer zones, and conducting a house-to-house search for people with respiratory symptoms and placing them under home quarantine or hospital isolation.
A health ministry official said many people who had attended the Tablighi Jamat congregation in Delhi during March and had travelled to several states had tested positive.
These include 173 people in Tamil Nadu, 67 in Andhra Pradesh, 47 in Delhi, 33 in Telangana, 22 in Jammu and Kashmir, 16 in Assam, 11 in Rajasthan and 9 in the Andamans.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Thursday proposed the introduction of rapid diagnostic test kits in the hotspots for quick assessment of their residents.
A senior scientist familiar with the tests said the purpose of these “rapid antibody tests” was to identify people exposed to the coronavirus in the hotspots. “The tests will reveal antibodies that suggest recent exposure to the virus,” said a senior virologist.
People found positive with antibodies would be confirmed through the standard confirmatory test and — if positive — would be sent for hospital isolation. But people found negative would be asked to remain in home quarantine.
“The primary purpose of the test is to determine the extent of the infection in the hotspots,” the virologist said.
The health ministry on Thursday released guidelines for the states and local government agencies to marshal human resources — including doctors, other healthcare workers, students and resident welfare associations —for surveillance, clinical management, quarantine, logistics and supply-chain management in the hotspots.
A health expert said the document reflected the formidable challenge that health authorities were facing in responding to the growing outbreak. The response requires managing a growing number of patients while simultaneously tracing all their possible contacts and quarantining them to prevent the virus from spreading beyond the clusters’ geographic areas.
In Dharavi, Mumbai, for instance, a positive case and a death have triggered a massive exercise to screen all the people from nearly 300 homes and 90 shops in the area.
A senior health ministry official said sample collection from residents and contact-tracing of the positive case was under way. The state government has deployed around 4,000 healthcare workers for testing and contact tracing.