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People have samples taken at a coronavirus sample collection centre (HT)
People have samples taken at a coronavirus sample collection centre (HT)

In containment lies the answer to unlocking India

While some states, including Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, have enforced strict lockdown measures, Odisha on Thursday became the first state to extend it till 30 April. With covid-19 cases on the rise, Mint analyses how far the lockdown has succeeded in limiting the spread

What is the status of the covid-19 spread?

More than 6,000 cases of novel coronavirus infections have been reported from across India, with Maharashtra accounting for over 1,300 till 9 April. In the last two weeks, Assam, Arunanchal Pradesh, Goa and Jharkhand reported their first covid-19 cases, while some larger states witnessed a surge in cases. Two factors have contributed to the trend. One, the government has increased the number of tests in particular areas. Two, more than 1,000 people, who attended a religious gathering of over 2,400 in New Delhi in mid-March days before the nationwide lockdown kicked in, have tested positive for the disease.

Has the lockdown been effective so far?

The result so far has been mixed. While Kerala, Gujarat, Punjab and Karnataka have managed to check the spread, others such as Delhi, Maharashtra, Telangana and Tamil Nadu have seen cases rise by at over 10 times at least. However, most cases that surfaced in the past two weeks were those who had been exposed to the virus before the lockdown, considering that it can take about two weeks before symptoms start appearing. Most experts, however, said it may still be a little early to tell whether the lockdown has been effective. Also, the lack of testing kits significantly stymied the operation to confirm coronavirus cases.

Graph: Paras Jain/Mint
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Graph: Paras Jain/Mint

What is the government’s plan now to curb infections?

Since the lockdown was implemented, the government has raised testing capacity using rapid antibody blood tests, which can give results within 30 minutes. It will be a precursor for confirmatory tests with real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) on throat or nasal swabs, which are more reliable. The government has also issued a cluster containment strategy.

In what way will cluster containment help?

The government on Saturday indicated that transmission of the disease had started in small communities, or clusters, and these can be contained with more strict implementation of the lockdown and social distancing norms. On Wednesday, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra sealed particular areas, whose residents will not be allowed to leave their homes and essential items will be home-delivered to them by the authorities. Masks have been made compulsory in public places across most states.

How long can the lockdown be in force?

As per the cluster containment strategy, the government plans to keep lockdown measures in place for at least four weeks after the last case has been confirmed and after all contacts of a patient have been monitored. While these are applicable for particular hotspots, or clusters, states and the Centre are considering whether to extend the lockdown to 30 April. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is said to have hinted as much to lawmakers on Wednesday. The final decision will likely be taken after a meeting with chief ministers on Saturday.

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