Centre’s laxity may trigger corona holocaust

KT NEWS SERVICE. Dated: 3/29/2020 12:29:41 AM

NEW DELHI, Mar 28: A Union Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba's advisory to the states on Thursday to increase the health surveillance of over 1.5 million entering India since it began screening all incoming travellers from January 18 from 14 to 28 days has set the alarm bells among the health experts.
They say the government is denying the coronavirus entering the third stage of the community spread, but its laxity and delay in imposing home quarantine on every incoming traveller may have fuelled its spread to the fourth stage.
India began screening air passengers from China on January 18 and kept adding the countries to the list as the pandemic expanded worldwide. But it wasn't until March 17 that a directive was issued that all income travellers stay home for 14 days. The cabinet secretary must have been advised by the health authorities to double this to 28 days in just nine days and that shows the gravity of the situation, the experts underline.
They point out that the health ministry had issued 14 travel advisories in the intervening two months, starting with the home quarantine of travellers from China on February 5 and gradually expanding the list to include 11 other countries by March 16 and very next day stating that the home quarantine to all those arriving from all coronavirus-affected countries that now stand at 159.
The experts do not want to be named to appear critical of the government when it was trying its best but they question delay in ordering quarantine of all passengers from abroad as the slow naming of the countries battling with the virus must have left thousands to infect lakhs of the non-travellers in this period. The Health Ministry has belatedly documented arrival of 12.29 lakh passengers on 11,406 flights since January 18 and it is well-nigh impossible to trace all those coming in their contacts and getting infected.
The experts say everyone knew thermal scans would not pick up the passengers incubating the virus with no fever as a large number of infected persons must have walked through. They say every passenger should have been seen as a potential carrier and told to stay home for 14 days as an early order forcing the home quarantine on all could have helped lower the number of people infected in the country now -- a number that nobody knows today.
The health ministry has itself admitted that only a minuscule segment of the 1.5 million passengers were quarantined by its National Centre for Disease Control as only 187,904 were put under health surveillance and 35,073 of them have completed their 28-day observational period.
By February 26, the coronavirus had spread to 37 countries, but India's travel advisory urged the people to refrain from visiting China, Singapore, South Korea, Iran and Italy and said those returning from these countries "may be quarantined." By March 2 when it had spread to 65 countries, the travel advisory still said people returning from China, South Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan "will be quarantined."
The health ministry imposed universal health screening and self-declaration forms at the airports for all incoming travellers only on March 6 and it it did not order mandatory home quarantine. Instead, the March 6 advisory reads: "If a traveller felt sick (cough/fever and difficulty in breathing) within 28 days after return from coronavirus-affected areas, they should immediately report to health authorities, isolate themselves at home and wear a mask until a doctor from the health department had examined them."
A March 10 advisory acknowledged spread of the virus to more than 100 countries but "recommended" 14-day home isolation only for passengers from China, Hong Kong, Iran, Italy, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, France, Spain and Germany. Four more countries were added to the home isolation list on March 16 -- Oman, Kuwait, Qatar and UAE.
It was only on March 17 that the Indian Council of Medical Research issued the director for 14 days of home isolation to all incoming travellers from the affected countries.



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