Even as 107 people are said to have tested positive in India so far, experts believe that the real scale of the epidemic will not be known unless many more people are tested.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed heads of governments of SAARC nations on Sunday (Pakistan was represented by the Health Minister), and called for coordinated action. He offered to contribute 10 million US Dollars (INR 73 Crore approximately) as India’s contribution, to set up an Emergency Fund. Prepare but not panic, the PM said, was how India has dealt with the epidemic so far and advised SAARC countries against taking knee-jerk reactions.
Most countries believe that free and universal testing will help in timely detection of cases and reducing fatalities.
Health Department officials have claimed that one lakh testing kits are available in the country. It is not clear whether the number is adequate.
India has 65 laboratories equipped for COVID-19 testing and can conduct up to 10,000 tests in a day. But the central government believes there has been no community transmissions in India till now – that is, there are no patients who have had no known contact with another confirmed case, or traveller from a country affected by the virus.
While the government claims it is well equipped to contain the outbreak, the WHO has classified India among countries having local transmission.
Public health experts have said that travel restrictions and advisories alone are not enough to curb the spread of the virus and mass testing of people will be needed to detect whether there has been community transmission in the country.
Public health experts contend that the current scale of testing in India is not enough to contain the spread of the virus.
“Since the virus is already in India, it is important to trace the contacts of all infected people to ensure that we are not missing any human to human transmission. It is better to be over cautious now than repent later,” Giridhara Babu, a professor of epidemiology at the Indian Institute of Public Health, was quoted as saying.
While screening is confined to airports so far, there are concerns that people travelling by road and by trains could also be infected. Some experts are suggesting that people be screened while crossing from one state to another.
Others point out that testing is just one aspect of containing the pandemic, and that the real need of the hour is to focus on strengthening the public health system.