Coronavirus: Is Tamil Nadu man India’s first community spread case?
The government is yet to establish the source of infection of a 20-year-old Delhi resident who tested positive for coronavirus in Tamil Nadu on Wednesday, sending alarm bells ringing and raising questions if this is India’s first case of community transmission of the deadly contagion.
The man had travelled by train from Delhi to Chennai — it was not immediately clear when — and authorities said they have not found any history of travel abroad or any contact with any other positive case of the coronavirus disease, or Covid-19.
“We have come to know he has had no travel history, but contact tracing is not a simple process. It has to be thoroughly investigated,” said Dr RR Gangakhedkar, head of epidemiology, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the country’s apex biomedical research body.
The Union health ministry reiterated that there was no evidence of community transmission – a phase of the outbreak where the origin of the infection cannot be traced to foreign travel or contact with another positive case – in the country, and that this particular case was still being investigated.
“The initial part of the investigation is to document what the patient tells you and then look for people he may have come into contact with indirectly. Sometimes there is a contact but the person doesn’t realise,” said Gangakhedkar.
“All these things need proper investigation before a conclusion is drawn.”
ICMR is expanding the scope of its sentinel surveillance that is meant to track signs of community transmission.
“From 51 sites currently we have decided to lift samples of severe acute respiratory infections from 100 sites,” he added.
In countries such as Italy or South Korea, the number of Covid-19 cases and related fatalities surged once community transmission of the disease began, making it difficult for governments to contain the rapid spread of the infection.
While the government is keeping private hospitals and laboratories on standby for a surge in cases that are likely to happen given the contagious nature of the disease, the 121 government laboratories so far are not testing to its full capacity.
“The government labs are so far using only about 10% of their capacity, but the private labs are being involved so as to stay prepared for any eventuality,” he said.
As of Friday, 112,000 people across the country were under watch for either having travelled from abroad or having come into contact with a laboratory positive case.
Close to 7,000 people have been identified as contacts of positive cases, and are being closely observed.