Hindustan Times (East UP)
Delhi: Covid spike renders tracing near-impossible
NEW DELHI: With nearly 15,800 cases on average reported daily over the last two weeks — the seven-day average in Delhi on Tuesday stood at 22,197 — it has become almost impossible to trace contacts of the Covid-19 patients because of the number of people that need to be screened in such an exercise, according to two district surveillance officers who asked not to be named.
They said that until the last week of March, or even the first few days of April, all district surveillance officers (DSOs) and their teams called patients who tested positive, asked for 10 close contacts, checked with all 10 of them for Covid-19 symptoms, and then advised them accordingly.
“The jump in cases is more than 10 times compared to previous months. We’re only focusing on tracing contacts of those who live in containment zones. But, very soon, this will also become impossible given the increase in the number of containment zones. If 20,000 persons are testing positive every day, then ideally, we have to trace 10 contacts of each person, which means we have to trace 200,000 people over the phone. Till the end of March and early April, contact tracing of everyone was happening, but now it’s not possible. We are focusing on people who live in containment zones,” said a district surveillance officer.
Between February and until March 19, when the cases were low, some districts such as East and South were tracing at least 31 contacts per every individual who tested positive. East district was then tracing 36 contacts per case -- the highest in the city. But officials said this is not possible in the backdrop of every district roughly recording 3,000-3,500 new cases every day.
In February, Delhi reported an average of 150 cases daily, which increased to 747 in March . Between April 4 (when cases started rising) and April 19, the city has reported an average of 12,978 cases every day. On Tuesday, according to the state government’s health bulletin, Delhi reported 28,395 new cases of infection.
All the 11 revenue districts of Delhi have a district surveillance officer who works with a team of officials from the district magistrate’s office and the district health department.
The officer cited above said that as cases are spreading rapidly, it is more important to trace the spread in containment zones and curb it right there so that there is no large hot spot.
The number of containment zones has also increased. On February 1, Delhi had only 1,068 active containment zones. This dropped by nearly half to 596 on March 1, making it easier for district teams to identify people who could possibly be carrying the infection.
But the active containment zone number has reached 17,151 on April 20, according to government data.
“During the first wave of the infection last year, especially after nearly 2,000 people linked to the Nizamuddin Markaz were found to be spread in different parts of the city, we had roped in Delhi Police too for contact tracing. It was the lockdown period, so the traffic police personnel were relatively free, and helped in contact tracing. These days, the responsibility of tracing contacts lies with the district magistrate and the district health team. The manpower needed is not adequate,” a second DSO said.
In districts such as South West and Central, more volunteers have been roped in to help with the contact tracing process.
“In these two districts, government school teachers have been brought in to the district surveillance officers team. The teachers are part on Covid duty and are making calls. Based on their input, the local authorities act accordingly,” a senior health department official said.
A senior officer from the South revenue district said, “We are taking help of technology. Earlier we had only 10 telephones. Now we have 25 phones. Civil defence volunteers have also joined the team. Earlier we worked in two shifts. Now they are working roundthe-clock in three shifts. “
Senior Delhi Police officers, too, confirmed that they are not a part of the contact tracing exercise anymore.
Dr Puneet Mishra, professor, department of community medicine, AIIMS, said that not being able to trace contacts of Covid-19 patients, it is not a major worry at the moment.
“The government should stop contact tracing or creating new containment zones as the infection is now widespread across the city. If the infection was only in a specific area, it would make sense to trace contacts of people in that particular area; contain the place so that it does not spread elsewhere. But the circumstances are different now. The main job now is to save lives, improve the infrastructure. Citizens themselves have to be disciplined and follow Covid-appropriate behaviour.”
BETWEEN FEBRUARY AND UNTIL MARCH 19, WHEN THE CASES WERE LOW, SOME DISTRICTS SUCH AS EAST AND SOUTH WERE TRACING AT LEAST 31 CONTACTS PER EVERY INDIVIDUAL WHO TESTED POSITIVE