Top advisory body suggests two-week extension in Punjab lockdown

Published April 13, 2020
Corona Expert Advisory Group opposes move to re-open OPDs, recommends screening of general public. 1 Dawn/File
Corona Expert Advisory Group opposes move to re-open OPDs, recommends screening of general public. 1 Dawn/File

LAHORE: The Corona Experts Advisory Group (CEAG) has recommended province-wide lockdown for another two weeks period to stop the spread of the virus and screening of the general population to further check the impact of the disease.

The group made some vital recommendations after a marathon meeting at the health secretariat here on Friday night. Themeeting was co-chaired by Primary & Secondary Healthcare Secretary Capt retired Mohammad Usman and former vice-chancellor of the University of Health Sciences Prof Dr Mahmood Shaukat.

Mayo Hospital Chief Executive Prof Dr Asad Aslam Khan and senior officials of the health department were also in attendance.

The 12-member CEAG strongly recommended closure of the out-patient departments (OPDS) of the government hospitals across the province.

Opposing the decision to re-open the OPDs, the group cited findings of a global scientific study which said that 40 per cent virus transmission was reported from health professionals to the general population, for being on the frontline of the efforts to fight the epidemic.

Opposes move to re-open OPDs, recommends screening of general public

Sharing details of the CEAG meeting, Mr Usman told Dawn the meeting discussed in detail all the possibilities to curtail the virus and one of the important issues was to start the screening of the general population.

He said the leading health experts who were part of the high-powered group were of the view that they needed to know a true picture of the disease prevalence in Punjab’s population.

Presently, he said, the hospitals were conducting tests of only those people who visited health facilities on their own or those coming from Iran, Tableeghi Jamaat members and expats.

“Since a vast majority of public is yet to be examined, experts recommended start of screening of general population.”

According to Capt Usman, sampling is the best option. Under the strategy, authorities can identify a district, town or a union council to start mass sampling.

“Similarly, samples can be collected from labour colonies, factories (when opened in future), fruit markets, commercial shops (functioning during lockdown), posh localities etc.

“We are also planning to perform tests of 10,000 more members of Tableeghi Jamaat”, he said, adding that the screening of general public would help asses disease burden.

Answering a question, he said the CEAG had suggested to the government to extend the lockdown in Punjab for another period of two weeks.

He said members of the group were convinced that the on-going lockdown had helped in curtailing the spread of the virus, otherwise, the situation could have been identical to countries like America, Italy and Spain.

Giving a scientific reason, Mr Usman said the intensity of the outbreak or its pandemic potential was still alarmingly high in Punjab.

“So far, the R-Naught value of the disease transmission is not less than 1 in Punjab that necessitated the need to further extend the lockdown”, said Mr Usman.

He said R0 refers to the average number of people that one sick person goes on to infect, among a group that has no immunity to the virus.

The experts use it to predict how far and how fast a disease will spread, and the number can also influence policy decisions about how to contain an outbreak.

“The R0 is a population-based determination that helps you to decide whether the outbreak is taking off, leveling off, or diminishing,” said the health secretary.

He further said that the CEAG was also against the opening of OPDs in Punjab as the experts believed that the assembly of hundreds of sick people under one roof in airtight premises would increase probabilities of transmission of the virus.

On an average 2,000 patients visit the OPD of a mega teaching hospital of Lahore daily and this number rises to around 5,000 as each patient is accompanied by two to three relatives.

These days many coronavirus patients are visiting with silent symptoms of the virus and under these circumstances the decision to re-open OPDs may lead to the rapid spread of the disease in Punjab, he warned.

The CEAG further expressed its apprehension that the medical personnel on the frontlines of the current COVID-19 outbreak were at high risk of disease transmission.

The previous disease outbreaks had clearly illustrated high risks to medical personnel and the CEAG strongly recommended not to open the OPDs under the prevailing circumstances, the health secretary said.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2020

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