Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao on Sunday, 29 March, had said that with 11 people due to be discharged the following day, “Telangana will be coronavirus-free by 7 April”.
Speaking at a press conference, Rao said: “All the necessary diagnosis is done and patients are being discharged after the formalities. 58 people are under treatment. 25,937 people who came from other countries are under the government’s supervision. The quarantine period of these people will be completed by 7 April. After 7 April, there will be no coronavirus patients if no new cases are reported from now.”
However, within 24 hours, there was a total reversal of the situation in the state as 6 deaths were announced, all returnees from the meeting at Markaz in Delhi's Nizamuddin area. On Tuesday, 31 March, 15 new cases were reported from the state.
The Quint spoke to senior doctors and virologists to understand if the ‘prediction’ made by the CM was logical or uninformed, even as COVID-19 cases spike on a daily basis, nearing 1,400 cases nationally.
‘Wrong Suggestion When We are Under-Testing’
Dr Shaheed Jameel, a senior virologist and the chief executive officer of Wellcome Trust DBT India Alliance, said that mixed messaging was not good, especially during times of a pandemic with panic all over the country.
“The statement has been made assuming that every transmission happened on a single day, and none after that. There are clear models to show that the 21-day lockdown will bring down cases but if you open after 21 days, the cases will go sky-rocketing again. If you look at the incubation period from infection to symptoms, that time is 17 days. You also account for something called the transmission number which is 2.5 for coronavirus, this means that one infected person can spread the virus to 2-3 people”Dr Shaheed Jamal
Dr Jameel said that that R0 (transmission number) plus incubation period, means that for every death, there should be 85 affected people.
"India has roughly 1,200 infections (at the time of the interview) and roughly 30 deaths. A conservative estimate is about 2.5k cases, but we have confirmed only 1200-odd cases at this point. So there are more cases to be reported surely,” he said,
He argued that KCR’s statement would have been no problem, if India was at saturation testing, but since we were still heavily under-testing, such statements, unsupported by data, were ill-informed.
Saturation testing, Dr Jameel explains, is when you test enough people with symptoms – something India is not doing.
“You should be testing everyone with pneumonia in the hospitals. We are still not testing everyone with respiratory problems,” he said.
“The fact is that in India we are under-testing. If he says no new cases would be detected in Telangana and if we were at saturation testing, then there would have been no problem. Since, we are under-testing, it is not possible,” he said.
Adding that clear, consistent messaging was the need of the hour, Dr Jameel said that it was important to instil trust in the people, in order to make them abide by lockdown rules and report themselves if they showed symptoms.
“You don’t want a situation where people are running away from containment facilities or come 7 April, feel it is okay to freely move around. Policy without data is misguided, cant make policy on the fly, it won’t be accurate,” he said.
‘Virus Doesn’t Behave in That Manner’
Speaking to The Quint, Dr Dhruv Kazi, Director of the Cardiac Critical Care Unit at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School said that viruses don’t behave in that manner.
“A virus doesn’t behave in that manner. Social interactions have not and will not stop and those asymtomatic will start showing symptoms. 42 weeks of social isolation follow by weeks and months of various restrictive measures may have an impact. We are looking at 6 months minimum,” he said.
Six months is a far cry from the week left for 7 April, by which the Telangana CM was confident that his state would be rid of the deadly virus. As experts have pointed out, it is better to err on the side of caution, maintain consistent messaging from authorities and test more.