This Article is From Jun 29, 2020

Can't Be Under Lockdown Forever: Scientist On Tamil Nadu Panel

Rather than extending lockdown, restrictions may be considered after an assessment of the scenario in specific regions of Tamil Nadu, said Dr Prabhdeep Kaur of the National Institute of Epidemiology-ICMR.

Can't Be Under Lockdown Forever: Scientist On Tamil Nadu Panel

Tamil Nadu on May 31 announced extension of the COVID-19 lockdown till June 30. (File)


The expert committee set up to advise the Tamil Nadu government on tackling COVID-19 has favoured restrictions based on the scenario in specific regions and has not recommended extension of the lockdown in force in the state till Tuesday, one of its members said.

It also wanted the "successful initiative" of holding fever camps in the city to be extended to other parts of the state as well, Dr Prabhdeep Kaur of the National Institute of Epidemiology-ICMR said after taking part in a meeting chaired by Chief Minister K Palaniswami in Chennai.

The camps helped in early detection and consequent increase in doubling time of coronavirus cases with the trend becoming favourable in the city, she said.

Rather than extending lockdown, restrictions may be considered after an assessment of the scenario in specific regions, she told reporters after the meeting in which World Health Organisation (WHO) chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan among other experts participated through a virtual link.

"Our committee did not recommend lockdown. It is called a blunt instrument. Though not the best solution, it is needed sometimes. In Chennai, the lockdown has helped to increase doubling time (of cases) and slowing down transmission. But lockdown alone is not the solution for COVID-19 and we cannot be under lockdown forever," she said.

As of Sunday, the state had 82,275 COVID-19 cases while the death count stood at 1,079.

After announcing relaxations, including partial resumption of public transport services, as part of Unlock-1 across the state from June 1, the government re-imposed intense lockdown in Chennai and parts of neighbouring Chengelpet, Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram till tomorrow from June 19.

Madurai and nearby areas are also under similar curbs from June 24 to 30 in view of high number of fresh cases. Besides, the government has withdrawn from Thursday inter-district public transport bus services, earlier allowed in most parts of the state, under the "unlock-1" while other relaxations such as functioning of businesses and shops are continuing.

Dr Prabhdeep Kaur, an epidemiologist, said instead of lockdown everywhere, tightening restrictions may be considered and fever camps could be held after considering factors including case growth, number of deaths, doubling time, positivity rate and bed occupancy.

"We feel that transmission has increased in several districts due to public transport and hence this should be kept under control and gatherings should not be allowed," she said.

No other tests like the rapid antigen test were needed in view of adequate RT-PCR testing capacity, she said.

An important suggestion of the panel to increase tests has been accepted and about 10,000 tests are being done in Chennai, she said.

Similarly, testing has improved overall in Tamil Nadu and approximately, 32,000 tests (confirmatory, RT-PCR tests) are being done each day, the expert added. "Testing is important for early diagnosis and treatment and to save lives."

In the last two weeks, in cities like Tiruchirappalli, Madurai, Vellore and Tiruvannamalai there was an "upward trend," she said, adding that doubling time in such areas has come down too. Hence Chennai's successful initiative of holding fever camps should be extended to such regions as well, she said.

The camps have helped detect more cases and the "trend is becoming favourable in Chennai as the doubling time has increased due to more detection of cases," Ms Kaur said.

She said the rise in doubling time is good as there has been a slowdown in transmission and this trend needs to be sustained and people should cooperate. The present initiatives like fever camps should go on, she added.

More cases are likely with more tests and the rise in numbers should not be a cause for concern and the focus must continue to be on preventing deaths through early detection, she said.

The state government had on May 31 announced further extension of the COVID-19 lockdown till June 30 but with more relaxations including partially opening up public transport and allowing more employees at workplace.

Public transport bus services had not been allowed in Chennai and three neighbouring districts.

The curbs on religious places, inter-state bus transport, and Metro and suburban rails, however, remained as it were from March 24.