Covid-19: AIIMS Director on Kanika Kapoor, community transmission and more
On a day that India confirmed 200+ Covid-19 patients, AIIMS Director Randeep Guleria spoke to Hindustan Times on the challenges and concerns staring the country in the face. Dr Guleria said that the threat of community transmission is serious and Indian hospitals need to re-organize themselves to deal with the possible influx of patients in the days to come. He added that ‘India will need to evolve different strategies to find ways of doing more testing.’ Excerpts from the Interview:
Q. How serious is the threat of community transmissions right now?
A. Threat for community transmission is serious given the number of cases we are seeing and becomes even more serious if people don’t understand their responsibility of social distancing, home quarantine and avoiding crowded areas. Those are activities that act as catalysts for infections to spread as seen in South Korea – where because of a large crowd in a church there was a huge number of cases. So we have to be proactive. We individually need to make sure we don’t become part of a chain that spreads infections to others in the community. Data from US and Europe is pretty frightening and worrying. We have to take all steps that we don’t move in that direction.
WATCH | Covid-19 I ‘Be responsible citizens’: AIIMS Director on Kanika Kapoor’s party row
Q. In a nation as big as ours, how easy or difficult is it possible to stop community transmissions given the cases so far?
A. Our population density is a big challenge but remember the outbreak is more likely to happen in big cities or even smaller cities. It is less likely to happen in rural India. If people in cities and towns can do it, I think we can break the spread.
Q. Your message to people like the Bollywood singer Kanika Kapoor who has been accused of misreporting her arrival from London and went on to have a party with 500 people present?
A. We need to be responsible citizens and if we have come from abroad or from a country where an outbreak is happening, we need to self-quarantine ourselves, report ourselves to authorities if we have symptoms and get tested, instead of going into a crowd and being the cause of spreading the disease. The government has been very proactive. A lot of steps have been taken in terms of improving our healthcare facilities, training doctors – not only in major hospitals but in all state level and district hospitals. So if an outbreak happens in any part of the country, we can upscale our resources.
Q. How prepared are Indian hospitals as on date?
A. Indian hospitals already face a challenge as there are a large number of cases. This is an extra load and we need to re-organize ourselves. We need to also train individuals in infection control so that health care workers can protect themselves. Most hospitals are already doing this in terms of up-scaling their isolation wards, polling ventilators etc. These contingency plans are already in place at most hospitals.
Q. India has been facing criticism over low levels of testing? Do you believe testing criterion needs to be changed to increase the number of people being tested?
A. As the number of cases increase and to ensure that we miss community spread, we will have to evolve different strategies to find ways of doing more testing. But as we start doing more testing, we need to work on building our capacity. I think we are working on both sides to see when we can open up testing criterion and at the same time get more and more labs ready so that we can do more testing and also look at private labs coming in to help with this.
Q. How soon can we expect private testing to start?
A. A lot of private manufacturers have given their testing kits to NIV Pune?. They are being validated because the most important thing is for the kits to have high sensitivity and specificity. We can’t have tests that give false positives or negatives as that will create further chaos. So once we know that a kit/ test gives an accurate report, then it will be cleared by the drug controller. I am hopeful this will happen very soon.
Q. PM’s announced Janta Curfew drill for the future?
A. Janta curfew is a way to make people aware and to understand their responsibility. Janta curfew is really to do what we have been saying in terms of social distancing, getting used to staying indoors. If a lockdown is required we should do it at the right moment. To do it prematurely may cause a lot of economic hardships. Policymakers and stakeholders must sit together and decide when it must be done.
Q. I will now ask the question on everyone’s lips. How do I know if I need to get tested?
A. If you are a person who has not travelled abroad in the last two weeks or have not come in close contact with a laboratory confirmed case, you need not get tested. Otherwise, if you have any symptoms like fever cough and cold, it is the common flu or seasonal viral fever that is happening this time of the year. Everyone who is coughing does not have Coronavirus. And currently there is no community spread, so that panic should not be there.