Tightening of restrictions in containment areas, non-essential activities : Health Secretary

Urging people not to believe rumours on a total lockdown after polling for Assembly election on April 6, Health Secretary J. Radhakrishnan on Monday said restrictions will certainly be tightened in COVID-19 containment areas.

“Some steps should be taken without affecting the public and with public cooperation to avoid an out-of-control situation like Maharashtra. Of the 4.5 lakh areas, there are 925 containment areas that had more than three COVID-19 positive cases. Restrictions will be tightened in these areas. We will have focus volunteers and take up complete testing,” he told reporters shortly after an inspection at the State Vaccine Store.

As far as non-essential activities were concerned, he said that people should learn to avoid crowding in funerals, marriages and cultural events, and avoid unnecessary travels.

Starting April 7, the day after polling, he said that door-to-door fever surveillance in containment areas and screening centres for triaging of COVID-19 positive patients would be taken up in full swing.

Masks must at polling booths

“The Election Commission and Chief Electoral Officer had asked the Health department to take up COVID-19 related arrangements for polling. All measures to ensure safe polling have been completed. In particular, we are ensuring cleaning of each booth, and availability of hand sanitisers, face shields for polling staff, surgical face masks, single use rubber gloves for voters, PPE kits for patients with COVID-19 and infrared thermometers,” he said.

All persons should mandatorily wear masks when coming to vote without expecting masks to be made available at the polling venues. The District Election Officers have made arrangements to ensure physical distancing at the venues.

COVID-19 positive patients can cast their votes from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on polling day, while those found having high temperature on screening would be issued tokens to come and vote between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Rising cases

Noting that there were over one lakh COVID-19 cases in India on Sunday, he said that in Tamil Nadu, the cases were rising gradually but when compared to Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Punjab, the positivity rate was not that high. “Nevertheless, the numbers are slightly alarming and we have crossed 3,500 cases a day. There is continuous monitoring, and we are ensuring that there is no lacunae in testing, tracking and isolation. A minimum of 20 to 30 contacts of a positive patient are being traced, tested and isolated,” he said.

One of the main challenges was house to house fever surveillance in containment areas, he said, adding: “Starting April 7, we will take up house to house fever surveillance in containment areas in full swing. We did not carry out the same to avoid creating confusion during election time. The field-level teams in each of the 15 zones of Greater Chennai Corporation and monitoring teams at the district-level are in place,” he said

The Health Secretary said that COVID-19 Care Centres were started in all districts. Taking into account the five hospitals in Chennai – Government Corona Hospital, Government Medical College Hospital, Omandurar Estate, Government Kilpauk Medical College Hospital, Government Stanley Medical College Hospital and Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital, a total of 1,869 persons were admitted, while the total bed capacity was 4,368. “Persons are directly going to the Government Corona Hospital. Those with mild symptoms can go to CCCs. After April 7, we will have 10 screening centres from the present three for triaging patients. Not all patients need to be treated in hospitals and doctors will decide on that,” he said.

Vaccination

Another area of concern was vaccination. The State has so far received nearly 54 lakh doses of the vaccines but the take-off was low, he said, adding, “On Sunday, we had only around 15,000 persons coming for the vaccination even as our healthcare staff were working full-fledged and we had over 400 vaccination centres.’

He said the supply from the Centre depended on three-day average utilisation. “The disease is on the rise. All those above 45 years should take the vaccine. We could not promote vaccination on campaign mode due to the model code of conduct. However, after April 7, we will take up this on a campaign mode to motivate people who are eligible to get vaccinated… Some might get infected after vaccination. It is said to have 70 to 85% efficacy 14 days after the second dose. In such cases, it will not be a severe COVID-19,” he said.

Noting that vaccine hesitancy continued in the State, he said that neighbouring States of Kerala and Karnataka had more takers than TN. The average capacity of a vaccination centre was 100 persons a day. On an average, Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital and Government Medical College Hospital, Omandurar Estate vaccinate up to 500 persons a day but in many cities, districts and rural parts, only 25 to 40 persons are vaccinated, he said.

“The Centre’s supply of additional doses depended on the three-day average utilisation. States that have higher utilisation such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh are getting more vaccines supplied. There is a view that we are not utilising the already supplied vaccines,” he said.

Noting that Tamil Nadu was among the top 10 model States, he said, “TN, like Maharashtra, is a highly urbanised State. The only difference is that we do 100% RT-PCR testing and contact tracing. But we must take up vaccination.”

So far, 4.25 lakh doses of Covaxin and 28.30 lakh doses of Covishield were utilised, he said. The State has till now received 7.8 lakh doses of Covaxin and 47.43 lakh doses of Covishield.

Test postivity

Daily analysis till April 4 showed that Chennai’s test positivity rate was 8.01%, Ranipet 7.39%, Theni 6.85%, Coimbatore 6.17%, Chengalpattu 5.53%, Tiruvannamalai 5.38% and Salem 5.07%.

“Except for these seven districts, the remaining have a lesser positivity rate. As per Centre’s direction, we should bring down the positivity rate to below 5%. We should do additional tests for which fever camps will come in handy. The Greater Chennai Corporation on an average conducts 500 camps a day, while in districts, 100 camps will be held where additional tests will be carried out. Attention will be given to all other districts with above 2% positivity rate. Only Tirupattur has below 2% positivity rate,” he said.

Due to lack of adherence of SOPs such as checking for temperature and hand hygiene in places such as the service sector, the disease was spreading from one person to many. “Elections were a challenge, but do not assume that cases would drop after April 6. We have had cases through banks, service sectors and training centres,” he said. He noted that though schools were closed, training centres were being run illegally.

Director of Public Health and Preventive Medicine T. S. Selvavinayagam was present.

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