After Tablighi Jamaat cluster burst, Tamil Nadu should stop avalanche

The number of positive Covid-19 cases in the state has jumped more than six times, from 67 to 411, between March 31 and April 3, dividing expert opinion in Tamil Nadu, now the second most affected state, over the spread of the virus.

Scientists involved in creating models and forecasting disease trends said TN was still reporting only cases of local transmission and community transmission can be prevented if the current public health measures continue. But virologists and infectious disease experts say there could be a huge growth in positive cases, with many including frontline healthcare workers losing their lives.

Professor Sitabhra Sinha of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences said the sudden spike in cases in TN since March 30 was due to imported cases from Delhi, and local cases resulting from them could be prevented if immediate containment measures are taken. It’s normal for numbers to grow exponentially until the
effect of
lockdown begin to show, in this case around April 7 or around two weeks since the lockdown began on March 24. “If the present spike is successfully contained so that we don’t see the imported cases resulting in local people getting infected, we could still see a more optimistic outcome.”

Researchers say it is not too late to prevent a geographical spread if a mix of all measures is judiciously followed. “We are still in stage 2 and are nowhere near stage 3 of community transmission, something which happened in Italy. We can prevent stage 3 if people cooperate with the government and stay
indoors and those who suspect they could have come in contact with an infected person volunteer to be tested,” said an IITM professor. “Lockdown was a wise decision though it would have helped if it was planned a couple of day before it was implemented.”

Medical experts, however, feel the 21-day lockdown will only delay the exponential growth of cases.

Renowned virologist Dr T Jacob John said the positive cases being reported in clusters indicate the disease is spreading in the community and predicted an ‘avalanche’ of cases after the lockdown is lifted.

In Tamil Nadu, he said, “The trend is not determined by the last 3-4 days. The moment the virus spread started, the rest of the story is already predicted that it will infect others particularly the contacts, who will infect their contacts and so on. And this is what the virus is doing. So, what happened yesterday or before that is not any indication of what is going to happen tomorrow.”

Pointing out that India should have thought up a strategy in February when the first case was reported, Dr John said, “Several mistakes were done. You cannot compare a country like India with high population density with countries having low density. Similarly, there are also states within the country with different population density. All these should have taken into account and we should have come up with a strategy in early February say 2 or 4…”

Infectious diseases expert Dr Abdul Ghafur, however, said India cannot afford to extend the lockdown. “But we have to be vigilant and continue following social distancing measures like avoid gatherings, weddings and all functions.”

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