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Keep red zones under lockdown even after May 3, suggests COVID-19 task force

NEW DELHI: Districts identified as red zones or hotspots with a high number of coronavirus cases, big clusters or fast doubling of cases should continue to be under complete lockdown even after May 3, the national task force on COVID-19 management has suggested to the government.

As of now, there are 170 districts across 20 states or Union Territories that have been labelled hotspots and are trying to mitigate the outbreak by breaking the areas into localised containment zones.

These 170 districts include 123 districts with large outbreaks and 47 districts with clusters. In addition, there are over 200 districts that have reported at least one case each.

“We are recommending that the hotspot districts continue to be under an extensive COVID containment plan lest the situation spirals out of control,” a member of the 21-member task force told.

The task force is headed by Dr V K Paul, member (health) of the Centre’s top think tank Niti Aayog.

In a communique sent to the states last week, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had defined hotspots as “the highest case load districts contributing  to more than 80 percent of cases in lndia or the highest case load districts contributing to more than 80 percent of cases for each state in lndia or districts with doubling rate less than 4 days.”

The task force has also suggested that partial lockdown measures should be continued in areas where there is even a single active COVID-19 case but the situation can be allowed to return to near normalcy, with strict social distancing measures in public places, in districts where there are no active COVID-19 patients, another member confirmed.

The letter by Union health secretary Preeti Sudan to the states had said that hotspots or designated red zones will be assumed to be undertaking effective containment activities only if no case is reported in 14 days (orange zones) and will be deemed successful in containment if no case is reported for 28 days (green zones).

The government, meanwhile, is yet to decide on the suggestion by an expert group on epidemiology and surveillance which had proposed conducting rapid antibody tests on random people — even non-symptomatic ones — in every district, even those categorized as non-hotspots or green districts, periodically to assess the extent of COVID-19 infection in the country.

“The decision on removal of lockdown — partial or full — has to be taken keeping several factors in mind and also with state governments on board so these suggestions by expert groups are being assessed but a final decision will be taken later,” a health ministry official said.

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