Assam has initiated a targeted surveillance programme to randomly test over 50,000 samples in 10 days starting from today amid fears that the coronavirus outbreak in the state may have reached the community transmission stage - the third stage, in which the source of infection in individual cases cannot be traced.
The Assam Targeted Surveillance Programme (ATSP) aims to randomly test frontline workers, people employed in truck parking lots and unloading bays and family members of those who have been released from institutional quarantine.
Under the programme, the state has identified four probable sources of transmission - truck parking and unloading bays including railway goods yards/godowns, frontline district officials, hotel staffs and family members of people released from institutional quarantine.
The tests will be conducted from today to June 27 on people involved in these four vulnerable categories, a circular by Principal Secretary of health and family welfare department, Samir K Sinha, said.
The state government has also begun mass testing in Guwahati, where a total of 25 COVID-19 positive cases with no travel history have been detected.
"At least 50,000 people will be tested," Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had said, adding that if more than 500 were found to be positive the government could impose some restrictions, if not a total lockdown of the state.
The Assam government, besides screening and random sample collections of the staff, employees and labourers in the vulnerable areas, has issued a separate standard operating procedure for the operations of various establishments frequented by the truckers and logistics carriers. It also mentioned random sample connection for the frontline workers.
Frontline workers, due to the nature of their jobs, are most vulnerable to contracting the highly contagious disease.
"Health workers and the officials in police, transport, and administrative departments will also be screened and tested regularly," the circular said.
"Staff of the hotels, which have been converted into institutional quarantine facilities for returnees, will also be tested," it mentioned.
A senior medical officer, speaking on the significance of random testing, said, "Since most of the cases of COVID-19 are asymptomatic, there have been instances when people have been sent to home quarantine and later tested COVID-19 positive This makes family members vulnerable, making screening and random testing a necesity," a senior medical official said.
The list of the 50,000 people, who will be undergoing the tests, was arranged by the administration of each district after consulting with the police, health workers and other stakeholders and was submitted to the National Health Mission headquarters on Tuesday.
In Guwahati - the biggest city in the northeast with a population of 2.3 million - tests are being done in 12 dedicated centres, where suspected COVID-19 patients can walk in and get tested.
Assam has also inaugurated another lab at Gauhati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) capable of conducting real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test to detect COVID-19, taking the number of labs equipped to do coronavirus tests to 12.
"The state will now be able to conduct over 11,000 tests daily. We might be able to conduct 1 lakh tests by the end of this month," Mr Sarma said.
Including the 50,000 community tests and the 50,000 more under the ATSP programme, the state is set to conduct 1 lakh test-taking the state's total test figures above the 3-lakh mark.
This comes as a breather at a time when the pandemic scenario has turned grim in Guwahati, a gateway to the northeast, where there are at least 72 active containment zones.
The state has a total of 134 containment zones, of which 29 are in Cachar district, seven in Dhubri, six in Golaghat, five in Darrang, three each in Kamrup (Rural) and Majuli, two in Karbi Anglong and one each in Charaideo, Karimganj, Kokrajhar, Nagaon, Baksa, Bongaigaon and Goalpara.
Assam has 4,510 COVID cases, of which 2,088 are active. 2,411 patients have been discharged so far and eight have died due to the disease.