All essential service providers should be periodically tested: Scientists in open letter
New Delhi: A testing site within 100 km for primary healthcare centres, periodic testing of people providing essential services and provision of protective gear for all essential service providers — these are among the measures the Indian scientific community has recommended for the lockdown.
Nearly 200 Indian scientists and researchers Tuesday put out a statement for public agencies, local authorities and the public, highlighting how scientists across the country are volunteering to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Researchers, including those from the Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, welcomed the 21-day lockdown imposed, but urged the central government and state agencies to introduce several additional measures to prepare the nation for the possibility of an extended lockdown.
The scientists stressed on the need for improving testing, contact-tracing, isolating and quarantining of possible disease carriers.
They also urged that essential service providers, not limited to healthcare staff, be provided protective gear and be periodically tested for the SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus strain that has caused the current crisis, even if they are asymptomatic, i.e., show no symptoms.
The letter also calls for compassionate action and said “violence and excessive force must be shunned” while everyone adjusts to this unprecedented situation.
We, a group of scientists and members of the Indian academic community, welcome the decision of the Indian Government to implement a 21-day national lockdown to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. The disease, also being referred to as COVID-19 and spread by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) appears to have a significant mortality rate and has already afflicted close to half a million people worldwide and about 775 in India (as of 28th March 2020). While the number of coronavirus afflicted persons in India is still relatively low, based on evidence from other countries, we believe, stringent, early mitigation strategies are key to avoid a full-scale, out-of-control pandemic in the nation — which is a distinct possibility. We urge all sections of the Indian population to respect the decisive, early action by the Indian Government, and cooperate in its implementation by diverse State Government and Central Agencies.
Considering the possibility of an extended lockdown, disproportionate risks to certain care givers and essential service personnel, we urge the Government and state agencies to introduce several measures to prepare the nation during the current lockdown phase. In the desirable situation of not having to prolong this lockdown, these measures will help the nation improve its preparedness for similar epidemics, pandemics or other natural disasters.
We recommend steps to enhance testing, contact-tracing, isolating and quarantining possible carriers. We recommend that all essential service providers, including but not limited to doctors, supporting health care personnel such as nurses, police personnel, emergency workers, supply chain personnel and Government officials dealing with the pandemic in their organizations or in the field should be provided with appropriate safety gear. These personnel should be periodically tested for SARS-CoV-2, even if they’re asymptomatic. We request the population to cooperate with, and be compassionate towards these essential service providers to ensure these basic services are not disrupted.
There have been reports of vigilantism, misbehaviour and violence directed against essential service providers and individual citizens or families out to access emergency and essential services. We strongly discourage such vigilantism. Violence and excessive force must be shunned and compassionate action must be practiced while everyone adjusts to this unprecedented and unfamiliar situation. We, however, encourage increased vigilance by local police authorities to ensure the protection of essential supply chains and the rights of individuals to access essential services and emergency transport during the lockdown.
We thank the Government for rolling out a package to daily wage earners, homeless, urban and the rural poor, etc., in order to avoid a humanitarian crisis. We recommend local Government officials in different States and Districts to constitute local task-forces to ensure a smooth supply chain pipeline for essential services such as food, grocery, medicine and shelter, particularly for the poorer sections of the society and stranded migrant workers.
We recommend that a national disaster-risk management plan be prepared and implemented in all states to test for the coronavirus and accommodate more patients. As already demonstrated, convention halls, empty hotels, enclosed stadiums may be quickly converted to set-up emergency isolation wards and temporary medical facilities. We recommend that testing facilities be rapidly enhanced to detect SARS-CoV-2 in every region of the country. Ideally, no primary health care centre should be more than 100 km away from a SARS-CoV-2 testing centre in the country. Maximum care must be taken to maintain large-scale water supply and sewerage systems. This will prevent the growth of other epidemics while dealing with this pandemic.
At this time when both governmental as well as individual decisions and actions must be based on well-established scientific norms, protocols, logic and reason, we urge the general public to not get influenced by any pseudoscientific proclamations about miracle cures, hoaxes and myths. We also urge individual citizens to not hoard medicines such as antibiotics. No individual should consume any controlled medicine swayed by media reports or social media messages. Medical attention and medicine must only be sought from qualified medical practitioners and authorized hospitals.
A very large number of students in schools and in academia are suddenly finding themselves under prolonged lock-down at home. To the extent possible, we encourage schools and academic institutions to engage with these students online or through other innovative means to keep them interested in academic and intellectual activities. Studies show that mentally and physically healthy individuals are better able to cope with medical issues. Therefore, along with intellectual stimulation, we also recommend at least a bare minimum physical activity be practiced during this time.
In this time of crisis, many Indian scientists from various organizations have come together to support the action against the spread of the coronavirus. Scientists and engineers are working on establishing statistical trends, epidemiological modelling of disease spread, development of testing kits, masks, hand sanitizers, low cost ventilators, repurposing of drugs and finding a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2. During this lockdown we request the Government to keep those research laboratories operational which are working at the fore front of finding a cure or managing the disease. Many scientists are involved in spreading social awareness about the disease, and warning against dangerous hoaxes and myths that mislead the population. We urge the Government to take advantage of resources and expertise available within the scientific community for spreading general social awareness and request the scientific community to assist the Government and public agencies when called upon.
History shows that in the face of major epidemics, scientific breakthroughs in medicine followed by vaccinations have saved humanity, time and again. We believe we shall eventually find a cure for SARS-CoV-2. In the meantime, we urge reasoned, logical planning and action, cooperation among all stakeholders and above all, compassion and humanity in dealing with one other in this time of grave humanitarian crisis.