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Home quarantine is the way forward, will require people to act responsibly: Karnataka Health Minister


Medical education minister K Sudhakar,who monitors the state Covid-19 war room, says institutional quarantine has its limits, and compulsory home quarantine is the way forward. Technology tools, he tells ET, are helping authorities keep a tab on people’s movements. Excerpts:

With the influx of people rising, will your quarantine strategy change?

In the past 2-3 weeks, about 2.5 lakh people have entered Karnataka, and about 1.5 lakh of them are in institutional quarantine. Bengaluru has the largest number of institutional quarantine cases, and we will have problems once demand for accommodation exceeds the capacity. Bengaluru has the capacity for about 25,000 people, and we can go up to 50,000-60,000 people. Hence, home quarantine will be the way forward, and it will require people to act responsibly. The government alone cannot do things by enforcement. Hygiene protocol must become part of everyday life.

What are you relying on for curbing infection?

We are extensively using technology in every aspect of Covid-19 control, be it in screening, testing or surveillance, and it has given dividends. In surveillance, for instance, technologies such as geo-fencing have helped. If a person tested positive and is still moving around, geo-fencing technology will alert our back-end system and the person will get a call. As for testing, in just two months, we have increased the number of labs from two to 60. They are doing about 15,000 tests a day, which is set to increase.

But private labs are underutilised…

You are right. For some reason, we are not using private labs to their full capacity. Their capacity utilisation should be on a par with government labs or at least 80% of that. In some time, the cost of testing will drop as more private labs enter.

Now that you have the data on trends, how will your testing approach change?

I don’t think we have to test each and every person who is returning to the state. More than 90% of those tested positive are asymptomatic and therefore the testing protocol has to change to suit the dynamic situation. We have now decided to allow asymptomatic people who have completed a week in institutional quarantine to go for home quarantine without taking a Covid test. They do not have to take Covid test even after 14 days if they show no symptoms.

The number of cases has suddenly jumped…

That is because we welcomed people from other high-risk states like Maharashtra. Our dashboard shows half of those infected have a travel history, and another 30% are their contacts. So, to contain the spread we need to have separate strategies for urban and rural areas. Gram panchayats in rural areas and municipal wards in urban areas will have to handle surveillance, quarantine and control. We have to put in place local control units because we don’t know how long it will take for the infection to subside.

When will we see normal life back?

Most activities are open except theatres, malls and dine-in restaurants. Factories are not working because their workers have returned to home states. Work on infrastructure is not picking up as most workers have returned to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. I think people have panicked. We are overreacting because people are not getting right information. We need to respond to the virus, not fear it. When the countrywide death rate is about 2.5%, why fear?

Why not allow private hospitals to treat patients who can pay?

We set up exclusive Covid-19 treatment blocks in government hospitals to prevent its spread. The strategy worked because the numbers were less. If the cases rise in big numbers, then the private sector will have to start treating Covid patients.

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