New Delhi: As about 17.5% of the COVID-19 confirmed patients in India are foreigners and their contact tracing remains as difficult as Indians, the government officials have said.
COVID-19 virus has spread to over 15 states and Union Territories now with the largest number of cases in Maharashtra. However, these foreigners have been tested positive in just 5 states with a bulk of them in Haryana. However, the major disease spread in the first stage has happened through Indians returning from abroad only.
About 137 COVID-19 cases have been detected in India. Out of these about 113 over 82% are Indian nationals. “The number of COVID-19 patients in a country is not being considered by nationality but by the disease. These patients currently in India are diseased and have a potential to further spread the infection. They are in India that is why they are a part of the total count," said a senior health ministry official. “As tourists they would have visited many places and tracing their contacts is as difficult as Indians moving in public transports," the official said.
Giridhara Babu, Professor and Head Lifecourse Epidemiology, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) argued that the cases of foreigners cannot be considered under local transmission unless they continue to stay in touch with community in India.
“The case definition is very important for diagnosis to use as a foundation. Expanding the testing and ensuring active case finding around COVID-19 patients through contact tracing is most critical in detecting new patients early for isolation," said Babu. For Indian patients, public health experts have said that they will stay in touch with community members and all the contacts should be traced for development of symptoms.
“The household contacts have as high as 15% chance of contracting the disease while there is 1-3% of chance of spreading among close contacts in the community," maintained Babu.
Majority of foreign nationals are from Italy while a few are from Canada and Philippines. If looked at the instance of Italy which is in the midst of a major health catastrophe, it joined the list of coronavirus-affected countries on January 30 when 2 positive cases were reported in Chinese tourists.
“However, the cases started growing exponentially by the end of February. Our objective now must be to minimize further spread so that the disease curve doesn’t rise steeply. We should be expanding our diagnosis net and test more people at the community level rather than just focusing on people with travel histories abroad," Vikram Thaploo CEO of the Telehealth Apollo Hospital said.
Thaploo warned that while currently foreign nationals comprise almost one fifth of the total confirmed cases, in a month’s time the number of infected Indians is expected to surge significantly. “Apart from testing more people to understand the status of the community level spread of disease, we also need to take certain strong measures to curtail the spread. All people should try to stay at home as much as possible," he said.