Coronavirus In India: 200 Scientists Urge Government To Increase Testing Facilities

Amidst fast spread of Covid-19 in the country, over 200 scientists and members of the Indian academic community on Tuesday asked the government to rapidly enhance testing facilities to detect the cases of coronavirus in every region of the country.

The scientist community also welcomed the government’s decision to implement a 21-day nationwide lockdown to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

In a statement, the scientists, affiliated with several research and academic institutions, noted that both governmental as well as individual decisions and actions must be based on well-established scientific norms, protocols, logic and reason.

Signatories to the statement, addressed to the Union government, public and state agencies and general public, include Aurnab Ghose from Pune’s Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research (IISER), L S Shashidhara from Ashoka University, K Muralidhar from IIT Kanpur, Sonali Sengupta from the University of Delhi and Ayan Banerjee of IISER in Kolkata.

The scientists noted that while the number of coronavirus afflicted persons in India is still relatively low, based on evidence from other countries, stringent, early mitigation strategies are key to avoid a full-scale, out-of-control pandemic in the country.

“Considering the possibility of an extended lockdown, disproportionate risks to certain care givers and essential service personnel, we urge the government and state agencies to introduce several measures to prepare the nation during the current lockdown phase,” they said.

“We recommend steps to enhance testing, contact-tracing, isolating and quarantining possible carriers,” the statement added.

In the desirable situation of not having to prolong this lockdown, the scientists said, these measures will help the nation improve its preparedness for similar epidemics, pandemics or other natural disasters.

“We urge the general public to not get influenced by any pseudoscientific proclamations about miracle cures, hoaxes and myths,” they added. Discussing the statement, Dibyendu Nandi, professor at IISER, Kolkata, said scientists have a responsibility to engage with society.

“We take this opportunity to appeal to the public at large to not get influenced by various myths, superstitions and pseudoscientific solutions circulating in the social media,” Nandi said.

“At this time, our collective decisions and actions must be based on logical reasoning and evidence-based conclusions. This is perhaps the most important message we want to send,” Nandi, one of the signatories of the statement, said.

The scientists also recommended that no primary health care centre should be more than 100 km away from a SARS-CoV-2 testing centre in the country.

“Maximum care must be taken to maintain large-scale water supply and sewerage systems. This will prevent the growth of other epidemics while dealing with this pandemic,” they said.

Essential service providers, including doctors, supporting health care personnel, nurses, emergency workers, and government officials dealing with the pandemic in their organisations or in the field should be provided with appropriate safety gear, the statement said. “These personnel should be periodically tested for SARS-CoV-2, even if they are asymptomatic.”

The scientists also said they strongly discourage “vigilantism, misbehaviour and violence” directed against essential service providers and individual citizens or families out to access emergency and essential services.

The scientists also urged individual citizens to not hoard medicines such as antibiotics. They encouraged schools and academic institutions to engage with students online or through other innovative means to keep them interested in academic and intellectual activities.

According to the scientists, the government should keep operational research laboratories working at the forefront of finding a cure or managing the disease. 

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