FPJ Edit: Testing not a panacea for preventing spread

In the US you can walk across to the high-street and ask to be tested for the coronavirus. Despite easy access to testing without any questions asked, America is seeing a huge surge in the number of infections, especially in States which did not enforce the lockdown in any meaningful manner. Post-haste, they are now clamping down stringent lockdowns. With over three million cases and over 1.30 lakh deaths, the US heads the list of countries which have paid the highest price for the virus which originated in Wuhan, China, way back in December last year. The point is that there is only a loose co-relation between the number of tests and the incidence of infections. Therefore, we in India should not over-obsess at the relatively smaller number of tests. More important in checking the virus was how well people take basic precautions such as maintaining social distance, wearing masks, washing hands, and self-isolating themselves in case of symptoms such as fever and body aches or a loss of appetite, etc. In any case, given our thinly spread healthcare system it is not possible even in big metros like Mumbai and Delhi to test everyone.

Of course, contact tracing is entirely different. In case someone is infected, it is important to establish the links to rule out infections among his contacts. This prevents further spread of the virus. Unfortunately, most States have not been able to undertake contact tracing fully. Karnataka initially did and succeeded in keeping the cases under check. But in recent weeks it dropped the guard and now is faced with a frightening surge, inducing an exodus of the well-heeled away from Bengaluru. Other big cities seem to have rightly decided to live with the virus. Despite highest number of cases, Maharashtra is gingerly moving towards ‘normalcy’. On Thursday, hotels in the state opened after a three-month shutdown, though customers were still scarce. Thermal screening, compulsory usage of Aarogya Setu App, mandatory social distance in restaurants, personal protective gear by the servers, etc., is bound to discourage people from going to hotels. In Delhi, restaurants were opened earlier but business is slow to pick up. People are afraid to eat out. Even the traffic on the capital’s roads is a fraction of the earlier pre-corona levels, though the local buses are running with seating reduced to half for social-distancing. Another reason why eating places wear a deserted look may be due to the claim in some quarters that in enclosed air-conditioned spaces the virus stays trapped much longer and is more likely to infect people. Further scare was caused by the latest WHO warning that virus lingers in the air much longer than earlier believed. And that it is not necessary for it to be transmitted from person-to-person, one can contract the virus merely passing through an area where it may be hanging in the air. In the absence of a scientific explanation for how, when and why someone gets infected, and some others don’t, opening up will carry a certain degree of risk but it is a risk worth taking in the larger interest of the people. We cannot survive shutting down the economy. With all possible precautions we must try and restore ‘normalcy’.

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