Random coronavirus tests on patients with severe respiratory diseases is showing that more and more people with no travel or contact history are contracting the virus. Data compiled by the Indian Council of Medical Research, the nodal body in the battle against the virus, showed that 38 per cent of such patients, who later tested positive for the virus, had no history of travel.
Two weeks ago, when asked about the possibility of community transmission of coronavirus, the ICMR had responded in the negative. “Tests on SARI patients show no community transmission,” the agency said after random tests.
SARI is Severe Acute Respiratory Illness, and the ICMR was conducting random tests on them to check if any community transmission of the virus was happening.
So far, most patients in India acquired the virus from their travels abroad, or from someone who travelled abroad. This makes zeroing in on patients and isolating them, and thereby curbing the spread of the virus, relatively easy.
But experiences of other nations have shown that as the infection spreads, there comes a time when it is no longer possible to trace the source. That state is called stage 3 or community transmission, when there is a surge in the infection.
In the weeks before March 14, no SARI patient had tested positive for coronavirus, ICMR data shows.
But when the policy was changed – instead of random tests, all SARI patients were tested — two of 106 patients were found positive between March 15 and March 21.
The big change came thereafter. Between March 22 and March 28, of the 2,877 patients tested, 48 (1.7 per cent) were found positive. Between March 29 and April 2, 54 out of 2,069 SARI patients, 54 (2.6 per cent) tested positive for coronavirus.
Altogether, out of 5,911 SARI patients, 104 (1.8 per cent) have tested positive for COVID-19.
Forty of these patients did not report any history of international travel or contact. Such cases were reported from 36 Indian districts in 15 states. ICMR in its report has said “These districts need to be prioritised to target COVID-19 containment activities.”
Two patients reported contact with a confirmed case and one reported recent history of international travel. The ICMR said data on exposure history was not available for 59 (57.8 per cent) patients.
Higher number of cases were seen among males and patients aged above 40 years – 85 cases (83.3 per cent) were males. Eighty-three patients, (81.4 per cent) were more than 40 years of age.
The biggest number of SARI patients – 21 – tested positive for coronavirus in Maharashtra. Delhi had 14 positive cases and Gujarat 13 cases. However, it is important to note that sample sizes were different for each state and the ICMR has cautioned in its report that the data is not “representative of the entire district or state”.