Medical and public health experts, who held a meeting with Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami on the COVID-19 situation in the State on Monday, said they have not recommended extension of the ongoing lockdown. Even though it had helped in controlling the spread of the disease, lockdown in itself cannot be a solution, the panel said. The lockdown is due to end on June 30.

“Our committee did not recommend lockdown. They say it (lockdown) is a blunt instrument. It is not the best solution but it is needed sometimes. It should be imposed when needed. But, the lockdown is not the solution in itself for the COVID-19 epidemic,” Dr. Prabhdeep Kaur, Scientist – E/Deputy Director, Indian Council of Medical Research – National Institute of Epidemiology, told reporters after the panel’s meeting with the Chief Minister at the Secretariat.

As for Chennai, the COVID-19 doubling time had come down due to the lockdown and it has slowed down the transmission, she said. “But we cannot be in the lockdown all the time.” There were certain indicators recommended by the World Health Organisation and others, which could be referred to while placing district-wise restrictions in specific taluks of certain districts based on some factors. The factors could be the doubling time or deaths or bed occupancy in a district (which should not go above 70%), she explained.

Dr. V. Ramasubramanian, an Infectious diseases expert in Apollo Hospitals, also a member of the panel, said the lockdown was a “very standard, broad weapon”. When asked whether the lockdown has helped in controlling the spread, he said: “It is like killing a mosquito with a big axe. Though initially, it was necessary to ensure that all know and realise [the contagious nature of the pandemic]. The lockdown has definitely controlled [the sprread] but we have to focus on other options. There is no point in having lockdown for another six months.”

Senior epidemiologist Dr. P. Kuganantham, another member of the panel, said that the committee had recommended to the Chief Minister to admit patients, who tested positive without any delay. He also noted that the death rate due to COVID-19 in Tamil Nadu was the lowest in the country. As for the lockdown, he said: “There were some benefits due to lockdown but it cannot be extended due to socio-economic conditions.”

Dr. Kaur said that public transport should be restricted as there was an increasing number of fresh COVID-19 positive cases in districts other than Chennai. Districts with “city population” such as Tiruchi, Madurai, Vellore, Tiruvannamalai, had “upward trend”, she pointed out and said the doubling time in these districts had reduced and hence the techniques implemented in Chennai were to be replicated in these districts too. As for Chennai, the doubling time had come down and the trend was favourable.

She said fever clinics, which was a “successful initiative” implemented in Chennai should be replicated in other districts. Persons with symptoms such as fever, cold, cough, breathing difficulty, sore throat, loss of smell, loss of taste, should go to fever clinic. The focus should be on reducing the death rate and early detection of positive cases.

When asked about opting for a rapid antigen test, she said it was “not necessary.”

“RT-PCR testing is good. It is the best. Even in the case of negative in a rapaid antigen test, the RT-PCR test is being done. Our RT-PCR capacity is sufficient,” she added.

Dr. Ramasubramanian said: “Many are anxious about COVID-19. Over 80% of this infection is quite mild. Even if you have any minor symptoms, you have to isolate yourself. Even if the results did not come in two or three days, the infection would spread [if the person fails to isolate]. Make sure to isolate yourself soon after you develop any symptoms.”

The medical and public health experts would soon finalise a standardisation of clinical pathway or protocol to all private and government hospitals with the treatment to be given to COVID-19 patients. He reiterated that people should not step out without face masks. “Even for minor symptoms, isolate yourself, test yourself,” he added.

Dr. Kuganantham said that people who came from other States had led to in the increase of fresh cases in other districts of Tamil Nadu.

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