COVID-19: Punjab Flattens the Curve, But There Could Be A Catch

Punjab government’s decision not to test asymptomatic contacts of COVID-19 patients could lead to a spike later

Published24 May 2020, 02:51 PM IST
3 min read

The COVID-19 curve has begun to flatten in Punjab, with the number of new cases dwindling over the last one week. The state is now presenting itself as one of the success stories as far as the handling of the pandemic is concerned.

Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh has already claimed that the state has accomplished Mission ‘Fateh’ or victory - against the COVID-19 crisis.

“Punjab has been the number one state as far as the fight against COVID-19 is concerned. This is something that several experts have also acknowledged,” Captain said on 23 May.

While there’s no denying that Punjab has managed the crisis better than many other states, there might be a catch at least as far as the numbers are concerned.

What Do the Numbers Say?

According to numbers released by the Punjab government, the state repeated 16 new COVID-19 cases on 23 May and just one new case on 22 May.

The total number of new cases increased by 99 in the past one week. The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state stands at 2045 as of 23 May.

According to a Punjab government report, the state has a recovery rate of 91 percent and the doubling period has increased from three days on 5 May to 98 days on 22 May.

This is a significant turnaround.

Punjab’s ‘success’ is crucial with respect to two phases. First was in March, when Punjab saw a massive influx of foreign travellers. Despite this, the total number of cases remained relatively low - 480 until 30 April.

The second challenging phase that Punjab saw was in the first week of May. From 480, the number increased nearly five times to 1762 on 9 May.

This was the same time when a number of pilgrims returning from Nanded in Maharashtra and students coming back from Kota in Rajasthan, tested positive for COVID-19.

A one day delay in testing incoming people may have resulted in a sudden spike in COVID-19 numbers.

Despite this, Punjab appears to have managed to contain the numbers mid-May onwards. But there may be a catch.

So, What’s the Catch?

It appears that the sudden fall in fresh cases in Punjab over the past one week may have been due to the government revising norms for testing.

Earlier this week, the Punjab government changed testing norms by saying that it won’t be testing the asymptomatic contacts of COVID-19 patients.

This means that if a person is detected with COVID-19, only those contacts who are displaying symptoms or those with a chance of co-morbidity - will be tested.

This has a potential risk. People who aren’t showing symptoms may still be infected by COVID-19 and could still act as carriers of the virus.

“We understand the government’s rationale, as resources are stretched. But this may lead to a spike in a few weeks time. What if asymptomatic COVID-19 patients don’t get tested and end up infecting others who are elderly or suffer from serious illnesses?” a senior doctor at a government hospital in Ludhiana told The Quint on the condition of anonymity.

Let’s compare this with Kerala, which has been cited as a success story in handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Kerala, the standard operating procedure has been to test anyone who has come into contact with a COVID-19 patient.

In fact on 28 April, the Kerala government instructed district officials to expand the pool of testing by screening even asymptomatic people who hadn’t even come into with COVID-19 patients.

“This is a more sustainable approach. We must understand that this preoccupation with reducing the number of cases is counter-productive. It’s better to test more as it gives a more realistic idea about the number of cases. And once these cases are identified, it make things much safer for the rest,” the Ludhiana doctor said.

The Punjab government’s main priority is to ease the lockdown and resume economic activity. That’s why it is important to show that the number of new cases is falling. However, by leaving out asymptomatic contacts from testing, it runs to risk of a later spike.

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