No COVID-19 Community Transmission Says Govt; Data Shows Otherwise
“Hydroxychloroquine should not be taken on your own without healthcare workers advise,” say the government. 
“Hydroxychloroquine should not be taken on your own without healthcare workers advise,” say the government. (Photo: PTI)

No COVID-19 Community Transmission Says Govt; Data Shows Otherwise

On Wednesday, 25 March, the National Medical Commission addressed media personnel on the preparedness and future steps for COVID-19 in India.

Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW) assured the press that India’s plan to combat COVID-19 has always been an “evolving response based on the evolving scenario with the virus.”

One of the points of contention these past few weeks, and days especially, has been in the reporting of COVID-19 confirmed cases, tests done, and deaths. There has often been a discrepancy and lag between state and central ministry announcements.

Agarwal said that “all official communication is from the MOHFW website,” and that we must access only this “for authentic information.”

Agarwal added that the discrepancy in state and central figures has been due to MoHFW authenticating the cases. But this begs the question: why is there no unified real-time update? Or why does state government release data without throughly verifying it first (as is implied)?

Also Read : A Veteran Doc Responds to Dr Devi Shetty’s Plan to Tackle COVID-19

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Agarwal added that once a case is confirmed, the process of contact tracing starts immediately and therefore time is spent on this. While a fair point, this does not address the issue of discrepancies since surely it is crucial for transparent data to be available.

He addressed the death in Delhi on Tuesday, 24 March, that showed up on the site but was removed later. He said it is a good sign, as “the reconfirmatory test of Delhi patient should up negative, so we reduced the death toll.”

While a definite positive for COVID-19 in India, this does raise some questions on the authenticity of the data - why was it reported by state ministries or MoHFW if reconfirmation was not done?

‘No Community Transmission’

In terms of current testing capacities, the government added that currently, 118 government labs have a capacity of 12,000 samples that can be tested per day. But this is set to increase, says Agarwal. Furthermore, there are 29 private NIV accredited labs approved by ICMR. These private labs had the required reagents, probes and equipment before they were allowed to open and following ICMR’s testing norms. Price capping on this has been done in private firms, said the government.

“We don’t want testing without reason,” insisted Agarwal. However, there is no clear indication of the state-wise testing data.

Despite cases in India rising, and with cases in Tamil Nadu and Gujarat and even Uttar Pradesh showing signs of community transmission, the government insisted that we were still at stage 2 (local transmission.)

“I spoke to ICMR’s Dr Gangakedkhar today and confirmed that of now, there is no community transmission,” said Agarwal.

Don’t Self-Medicate with Hydroxychloroquine Says Govt

There has also been much confusion of the use of anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic for high-risk populations such as those in close contact with confirmed cases. On 23 March, the ICMR had recommended the drug as a prophylactic for specific people, but hoarding of the drug has been reported. Addressing this, Aggarwal said,

“Hydroxychloroquine has only been given for two cases as a prophylactic. It is only to be given by healthcare workers to confirmed cases, or close contacts of confirmed cases. No one else should take this medicine, as it has very technical guidelines for specific cases.”
Lav Agarwal

They added that, “the anti-malaria drug is still in the experimental stage, and has only been used so far for specific cases. Please do not buy or take this medicine on your own. It is only for those whom healthcare workers prescribe it to.”

However he did not address why ICMR has approved the drug based on small and insignificant studies.

On the lack of PPEs, he said “Our government has been aware of this dearth, and we had stopped the export of masks since February. A lot of the components in PPEs come from abroad, and because of the current global situation, import has suffered. We are trying to ensure sufficient stocks of PPEs and N95 masks.”They did not comment on the current number available.

Also Read : ‘Don’t Have Enough Protective Equipment’: AIIMS Docs on COVID-19

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