ICMR initiates study to predict the rate of Covid-19 infections in India

India’s top health research body has initiated a study that is expected to predict the rate of Covid-19 infections in the country in the coming months.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) will use mathematical modelling to figure out how many cases India could be grappling with in the next few months.

RR Gangakhedkar, chief epidemiologist at ICMR, said the research body through the modelling process will know the best-case and worst-case scenarios. “We will get some impressions by Tuesday, he said, adding that the country was only facing “local transmission” of the virus as of now.

“We can do mathematical modelling when community transmission starts. However, by Tuesday we should start our study to know the best- and worst-case scenario,” he said, adding that this would help the government calculate the potential demand for testing kits.

Epidemiologists conducting mathematical modelling of the SARS-CoV-2 virus will help estimate the transmission rates of the Covid-19 virus, as well as the variance of transmission rates over time, he said.

For example, Indonesia has done geometric sequencing and found that the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases could reach between 11,000 and 71,000 by the end of April.

The study will also highlight the importance of testing and isolation as a defence against the spread of the virus. “At this point in time, lockdown is the most essential thing to break the chain of transmission,” said Balram Bhargava, D-G, ICMR.

The study may also suggest early detection of patients with the illness and a strategy to prevent transmission. According to the experts, the data and modelling will be important in the long run to understand which control measures work.

According to Bhargava, so far it has been seen that 80% of people infected by the virus are not impacted much, 20% show flu-like symptoms like cough, cold and fever and of this, only 5% would need hospitalisation.

“Some new medicines have been tried but the results are not so good. People continue to die even in the developed world. So, if we isolate and quarantine them, it will,” Bhargava said, referring to the best method to contain the virus spread.

He also said India does not need to go in for “indiscriminate” testing.

According to the government, the ICMR has the capacity to conduct 10,000 tests daily. By comparison France conducts 10,000 per week, UK with 16,000 tests for the same period, United States with 26,000, Germany doing 42,000, Italy doing 52,000 and South Korea doing 80,000 every week, Bhargava informed.

“Now, per week we can go for 60-70,000 tests, but most important thing is indiscriminate testing is not to be done. I would emphasise on isolation, isolation, isolation,” he said.

The ICMR has 111 laboratories working round the clock.

Bhargava said that 60 private laboratories have been roped in to boost the requirements so that both government and private sector can contribute to comprehensive efforts to control the disease.

“We wanted to ensure the safety of their own lab personnel and their handlers because this is a virus which is a bio-security hazard and therefore we wanted to ensure that they have full capacity for that,” he added.

Bhargava said that certain hospitals to deal only with Covid-19 cases will be segregated.

The Union cabinet secretary held a video conference on Sunday with states and have asked them to earmark hospitals with isolation beds to handle these cases.

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