Coronavirus spread: Govt's U-turn on 'limited community transmission'

The day after a document from the Ministry of Health mentioning a “limited community transmission” of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country, the government said on Monday that it had reached only one stage of “local transmission” .

Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Health, Luv Aggarwal, reiterated that it was only local transmission, explaining why the term “limited transmission in the community” was used in a standard operating procedure document (SoP) ) to transport a positive patient to Covid-19. The term used on the ministry’s website was only to highlight “government action on the ground,” he said, without giving further details.

“We would be the first to contact you to explain that, yes, there is community transmission in the country if need be,” he said.

The government has not specified whether there is an intermediate stage between local and community transmission. A public health expert, however, said on condition of anonymity that the chances were high that community transmission had started in India.

“In fact, community transmission has started in all the countries where Covid-19 has affected the population,” said the expert.

The expert clarified that there was “no intermediate step between local and community transmission”.

The first stage of the pandemic occurs when cases are imported from affected countries and people with a travel history are tested positive for the disease. In the second step, local transmission begins when the source can be found. Thus, people who came into contact with someone with a travel history or a positive case for Covid-19 also have a positive result.

In the third stage, called community transmission, the source of the infection cannot be traced and, as a result, it becomes difficult to isolate such cases. At the fourth stage, there are several clusters of the disease in a country and the spread becomes uncontrollable.

The health expert said that the third step was inevitable, but that it could be delayed. “How we control the spread of the disease in stages two and three, that is, if we can calm the spread, the fourth stage can be avoided,” said the expert.

Last week, a tweet from Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, about receiving a report from a panel of doctors who recommended measures to prepare for a possible stage three epidemic in Delhi also had hinted that the danger was still alive and not far away.

Aggarwal said that among the cases that occurred until Monday evening (1071), the number of cases in which authorities searched for contacts to identify where they had acquired the infection was very limited or tiny, without specifying the exact number.

He cautioned against “going into semantics” in the context of the word “community” and, in a lighter tone, even said that he would be removed from future communication. His responses to other indicators of a wider spread of infections, i.e. hot spots, were rather cautious. Hotspots are areas with more or limited number of cases but in a densely populated area.

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“As part of this strategy, we identify the containment zone and the buffer zone still around it and we form special teams, the district administration coordinates the efforts,” he said.

Aggarwal cited some figures trying to show how the spread of the disease was stopped thanks to a lockdown – while it took India 12 days to reach the 100th to 1000th cases, the same number of days saw other countries, more developed and less populated, reporting between 3,500 and 9,000 cases. However, the relatively small number of cases can also be attributed to fewer tests in India.

Aside from a few figures, the mass exodus of migrant workers to their country of origin last week also left the possibility of a rapid transition.

Meanwhile, India is using this period to build a warfare processing infrastructure. Experts said that after the foreclosure, India should conduct massive testing to make sure the spread is under control.

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