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Govt’s Principal Scientific Advisor pitches for substantial testing, digital contact tracing

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New Delhi:  Central government’s Principal Scientific Advisor K VijayRaghavan on Thursday pitched for substantial but “focused and intelligent” testing for coronavirus especially in identified zones or areas where it is important to carry out tests.

Delivering an address in an online conference on ‘Combating COVID-19 –Biotech to the Rescue’ organised by Bennett University, VijayRaghavan also batted for digital contact tracing of coronavirus cases that he said may prove to be an effective tool post-lockdown.

“Many people who talk about the levels of Indian testing use (as) the denominator the entire Indian population. That denominator is very large. However, what you should do is identify zones, areas in our country where it is important to test and look at those areas as a denominator — large metros for example, hotsposts, districts and so on,” VijayRaghavan said in response to a question on whether India is testing enough.

“Testing has to be not only substantial but it has to be focused and intelligent. Even by that measure, people would argue that we should be testing a lot more. And indeed, testing is scaled up enormously,” he said.

He said there are over 150 testing sites now in the country.

Experts have been pitching for ramping up the testing. Data obtained from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said till April 14, the number of samples tested stood at 2,44,893, an increase of 27,339 from the corresponding figures till the previous day (2,17,554).

According to the website” which maintains a global database on coronavirus cases and tests conducted, the US, where over 26,000 COVID-19 deaths have occurred, has done 31,00,387 tests averaging about 9,367 per million of population.

The figures for India is 2,44,893 tests averaging 177 per million of population.

Spain and Italy, two countries which have also seen several thousands of fatalities, have done 6,00,000 and 10,73,689 tests respectively.

VijayRaghavan said at present, after identifying a coronavirus case, contact tracing is manually done of all those people who the patient has come in contact with to see whether they show any symptoms of the disease and then isolate them, and their contacts further.

“The problem with COVID-19 disease is that many people who have the disease and who transmit it don’t show symptoms at all. Significantly, the spread of the disease is very rapid.

“So, we need a different type of contact tracing. That can be achieved by digital contact tracing,” the principal scientific advisor said.

Explaining the concept of digital contact tracing, VijayRaghavan said if any individual has a smartphone, he has to turn on the bluetooth and GPS. So, the phone knows about people who are in close proximity to the person.

“Later on (if) this person turns out to be coronavirus positive, then you can go back in time and identify all those people in the 10-15 days’ period who were close to this person and make sure that they are all assessed properly, at least those in close proximity first. This allows you to isolate even those who were not symptomatic and who may have been positive,” he said, adding that this may help in curbing the disease.

He noted that this is being done through a mobile application called Aarogya Setu.

“As the economic lockdown is lifted and we get back into our economic activity, this allows us to go into a situation when you can get an e-pass and know whether you are digitally safe,” he added.

The Aarogya Setu mobile app, developed for tracking coronavirus patients, has been developed under a committee set up by the Prime Minister’s Office with active involvement of the Niti Aayog and Ministry of Electronics and IT.

It also alerts people about coronavirus patients in their vicinity.

The 13-lakh strong Indian Army and public service broadcaster Prasar Bharati are among the government entities that have recommended to their staff to use the coronavirus tracking mobile application ‘Aarogya Setu’ which recorded around five crore downloads within 13 days of its launch.

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