Tracing contacts of Covid-19 patients a daunting challenge

Updated Jul 01 2020

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Officials said people were not willing for voluntary testing that was posing a big challenge to the Covid-19 situation in the province. —AP/File
Officials said people were not willing for voluntary testing that was posing a big challenge to the Covid-19 situation in the province. —AP/File

PESHAWAR: The health department is facing the daunting challenge of testing the contacts of Covid-19 patients as people are not giving swabs for laboratory analysis fearing that in case of positivity their areas would face smart lockdown, according to officials.

They said that since the strategy of smart lockdown was adopted by the government on the national and international guidelines, the health department was finding it hard to trace the contacts of the positive cases for testing.

According to the guidelines issued by National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), the health department is required to recommend to the district administration and home department to enforce smart lockdown in the areas where more cases are being reported.

“If number of Covid-19 positive cases in a union council or village council reaches 500, then health department asks the district administration to enforce smart lockdown and close the exit and entry points there,” said the officials.

People fear their area will be locked down if more cases are reported

They said that after finding a confirmed case, as standard operating procedure they went for tests of contact tracing and at least 10 swabs were taken from the people in the surrounding areas.

However, since the start of the smart lockdown strategy, the people were not willing for voluntary testing that was posing a big challenge to the Covid-19 situation in the province, they said.

Officials said that imposition of smart lockdown depended on number of coronavirus cases in a specific area. If the number reaches a certain level then district health officer concerned requests the deputy commissioner to enforce smart lockdown in the area. After receiving the recommendations, relief and district administration are responsible for smart lockdown.

“The strategies are different for urban and ruler areas. According to the formula, when we report a few cases in certain areas, then we recommend to the district administration to impose smart lockdown in the street where people are tested but there is a big issue that people aren’t giving swabs. It is voluntary and we cannot force people to undergo testing forcefully, therefore, many meetings have taken place during the last few days to resolve this issue,” they said.

The officials said that number of tests reduced by 50 per cent during the past couple of days, which was not a good sign. They said that government adopted the smart lockdown strategy instead of complete lockdown because people could not afford it owing to economic problems.

“But the new strategy is also not bearing fruits because there are people, who are positive but they are not tested. The first strategy is home quarantine of the people testing positive but the people are not taking it seriously,” they said.

The government on the directives of NCOC has to enforce smart lockdown in three stages including home quarantine of positive patients, then closure of street in case of more cases and then shutting of the whole market when cases further rise but now people have adopted an approach not to give swab for testing to avoid smart lockdown.

Officials said that with every positive case, there were at least 10 suspected cases that needed to be tested and isolated if diagnosed confirmed as part of the plan to stem transmission of the virus.

“The people fear that by giving swabs, number of confirmed cases in their streets and councils would be increased and the whole area will face lockdown. Therefore, we are facing reduction in number of cases, especially in Mardan, Mansehra and Swat where smart lockdown has been imposed,” a senior official said.

He said that efforts were underway to resolve the issue of less testing because it will complicate the problem.

Published in Dawn, July 1st, 2020