Building a precise map
ICMR on Tuesday revised the testing strategy to mandate testing of all symptomatic individuals without any qualifiers such as 'in containment zones', 'contact with positive patients' or 'frontline healthcare workers'. Aligning itself with the 'testing, tracking and treating' strategy that has yielded positive results for several countries, ICMR looks to strengthen the testing infrastructure in a bid to get a clearer picture of the virus map in the country. ICMR's revision of testing strategy precedes the steep surge in cases from Delhi and most notably, Telangana. The southern state has recorded a third of its current caseload in the past five days owing to increased testing. As Telangana tested three times more from June 17 to June 22, positive cases rose from under 300 to nearly 900 respectively. It delineates how a strong testing regime is absolutely necessary. Contrary to this principle, Telangana had conducted just 45,911 tests till June 17. Such a low testing rate is catastrophic, to say the least. Even Mumbai, which has shown a recent decline in new cases relative to Delhi, owes it to its low and constant testing figures hovering around 4,500. An increased focus on the national capital saw a nearly threefold increase in a week and the outcome was a daily rise of almost 4,000 cases yesterday. Figures from official data simply corroborate how more testing results in more cases; not a bad thing necessarily since more insight into virus spread in the place. With the new rapid antigen tests deployed to strengthen the testing regime, cases are set to record a new daily peak for India in coming days. Aforementioned figures and their inference should motivate other states to ramp up testing in a bid to draw out a much precise picture of their respective infection maps. Information about the virus spread would enable states to adequately prepare for it similar to how Mumbai and Delhi were required to do. Both had to increase the number of beds dedicated to Covid-19 patients as the pressure on health infrastructure rose. It was still not enough since many are recommended home isolation and recovery rather than hospitals to allow the latter to cater to more critical patients. Irrespective of a rising recovery rate, the pressure on hospitals is evident in places such as Mumbai, Delhi and Tamil Nadu. Rather than downplaying the virus spread by testing less, states should take the opportunity to procure true figures of the infection and adequately enhance the medical infrastructure.
At the beginning of June, India was recording a little more than 5,000 cases and the 'unlockdown' phase was ushered in to revive businesses and economy. As the month-end approaches, India is recording more than 15,000 cases — a threefold rise — which largely corroborates to both increased testing and relaxed measures that have allowed the public to interact albeit with precautions. The silver lining of more recoveries than active cases across the country is a major psychological boost but simultaneously, incessant rise in daily caseload dampens it. Before comparing ourselves to other countries, we should first bring all states to test uniformly. Only when a strong testing regime complemented by an adequate medical facility is in place can there be a claim of some control over the pandemic in the local perspective. And, a national aggregate of that methodology would be a true notion of the country's position in combatting the virus. With newly approved drugs such as Remedesivir and Favipiravir, we are at a much better stage in this fight than we were at the onset of spread. It is unclear when India will reach a peak in infections. While countries have begun reporting a second wave, we remain unsure even about the end of the first one. It is therefore important for India to uniformly increase its testing numbers across states to gather a precise disease map.