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New COVID-19 guidelines in India seek to free up resources, but come with hazardsPi

FILE PHOTO: A healthcare worker collects a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test swab sample from a man, amidst the spread of the disease, at a railway station in New Delhi, India, January 11, 2022. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

India has relaxed its COVID-19 restrictions on testing, quarantine, and hospital admissions in order to free up resources for the country’s most vulnerable citizens, a measure praised by experts despite the possibility of a large undercount of infections and deaths. The changes will give healthcare facilities a breather as they battle a 33-fold increase in infections from the highly contagious Omicron variety over the past month in a far-flung nation of 1.4 billion people.

The news: Federal officials announced last week that states should no longer require mandatory testing for proven case contacts unless they were elderly or suffering from other illnesses, as well as lowering the isolation period to a week and recommending hospitalisation only for the very ill.

  • Sanjay K. Rai, a professor of community medicine at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, said, “Contact-tracing has been the most resource-intensive task since the epidemic began.”
  • “That technique failed and was a waste of resources,” he said, adding that serological studies revealed it had only discovered a percentage of infections. “With the new one, we’ll be able to make the best use of what we have.”
  • On Thursday, India’s total number of infections surpassed 36 million, with 247,417 new cases, despite daily testing capacity remaining well below 2 million.

What’s going on: Four Indian epidemiologists agreed with Rai, arguing that it was more important to track the number of people in hospitals than diseases, and that speedy testing should be targeted at populated areas.

  • They went on to say that the rules for shorter isolation and hospital stays were in accordance with global practise because most Omicron patients recover faster, even if they disseminate the virus more quickly.
  • However, other experts fear that the new restrictions would lull people into taking diseases for granted until it is too late, particularly in rural areas, which account for two-thirds of the population and where few people seek tests unless directed by authorities.
  • According to health experts, India substantially undercounts illnesses, with the official death toll of roughly 485,000, owing to the fact that few victims of earlier waves, primarily in rural regions, were aware of their condition until the very last moment.
  • The best healthcare services in India are concentrated in major cities, leaving impoverished people throughout vast swaths of the country to rely on ageing government networks.
  • Requests for comment to the health ministry and the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) were not immediately returned.

Facts and figures: Thousands of individuals bought home test kits in the last week, according to ICMR chairman Balram Bhargava, but he did not indicate if rural areas were as well supplied as metropolitan ones.

  • Because they are not obligated by the new testing requirements, several Indian states have decided to disregard them.
  • Karnataka, which includes Bengaluru, India’s southern technology hub, has reported the third-highest number of infections and wants to continue testing for sick people’s close contacts.
  • According to a survey conducted this week by the New Delhi-based website LocalCircles, 15 per cent of respondents knew of one or more members of their relatives or friends who had symptoms similar to COVID-19 in the previous month but had not been tested.
  • When the virus spreads to smaller cities and villages, the discrepancy between real and reported daily cases will widen, according to the paper.
  • South Asian countries like India, which have less than half of their population properly vaccinated, have a higher risk of serious sickness requiring hospitalisation, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

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