Village secretariat staff and health workers have been deployed to trace those who have returned from abroad, and will now track all symptomatic persons.

Coronavirus Coronavirus Tuesday, March 24, 2020 - 18:42

To identify people who have returned from other countries and may be at risk of COVID-19, Andhra Pradesh on March 20 announced a door-to-door campaign to trace them in the state. Over the past three days, the government claims to have identified nearly 10,000 people who returned after travelling abroad since February 10. This after volunteers screened over 1.38 crore households in the state. 

According to an official statement, out of around 10,000 people traced, 140 have shown symptoms of the coronavirus disease, while the rest are asymptomatic. However, not all symptomatic persons are being tested yet. “Those who are found to have symptoms are referred to medical staff who will assess their situation and take a call on next steps. All foreign returnees, including asymptomatic ones, are required to remain under home quarantine,” Kanna Babu, Commissioner of APSDMA (Andhra Pradesh State Disaster Management Authority), told TNM.

Universal screening had been underway at Visakhapatnam, at Andhra Pradesh’s only international airport, until the recent ban on domestic and international air travel. However, many people returning from foreign countries before the suspension of interstate travel on March 22 are likely to have landed at airports in Bengaluru, Hyderabad or Chennai owing to availability of flights or distance from their hometowns within the state and then travelled to Andhra Pradesh.

Till Sunday, an official statement said that 9,530 people had been screened at the Visakhapatnam airport, 1,274 people were screened at the Vizag and Gangavaram sea ports, and another 836 people at the Krishnapatnam port.

Challenges in tracing

Kanna Babu told TNM that tracing efforts have also been going on based on Government of India records shared with state authorities by the Bureau of Immigration. These foreign returnees are being traced based on the residential address in the passports.

Yet, they are facing challenges in tracing foreign returnees -- in cases where they were either left out of Central government records, or in cases where people were actively hiding their travel history to avoid medical checkups and quarantine. Which is why the state government is now actively tracing foreign returnees through a door-to-door campaign. 

“Whoever has travel history after February 10 is being kept under active surveillance. So far, volunteers have identified nearly 10,000 people over and above the ones mentioned in the GoI data,” Kanna Babu said. 

Door-to-door campaign

Staff of village and ward secretariats, including volunteers, as well as ANMs (Auxiliary Nurse Midwife) and ASHA workers (Accredited Social Health Activist) are carrying out the doorstep campaign work. So far, the government claims that around 10,000 people who have returned from abroad after February 10, have been traced through this program. 

Around 2.5 lakh volunteers have been deployed for the program, with each volunteer in-charge of surveying around 50 households. Volunteers are required to enter the details of any relevant cases in a mobile app, with these entries being monitored by district health authorities and primary health care centres. “A total of 1,38,58,747 households have been screened by the volunteer network by now, out of the registered 1,43,91,654 households present in the state,” the statement said. 

No protective gear for volunteers

Apart from tracing foreign returnees, the volunteers are also communicating to people the precautions necessary to tackle the spread of the disease, Kanna Babu said.

However, the volunteers are doing this work at a personal risk as no masks or sanitisers have been provided to them so far. It is also not clear if the protective equipment has not been provided to volunteers due to shortage or because the state government failed to procure them.

Kanna Babu justifies this saying that most of the staff are younger, healthy persons, below 30-35 years of age – the demographic that is statistically less vulnerable to the virus than senior citizens above 60 years of age. ”They have been given only handkerchiefs so far to cover their faces. In a day or two, we may provide sanitiser,” Babu said, adding that since the workers are tasked with raising awareness on the disease, they themselves will also take necessary precautions. 

Those with travel history to other countries, who are mandated to remain under home quarantine, will be monitored by the medical or secretariat staff. “For about every 10 cases, one staff member will be allocated to ensure that these people remain under quarantine, and the ANM will also keep monitoring their situation,” Kanna Babu said. 

The government is also planning to use the same staff to continue to monitor the population, beyond just foreign returnees for possible cases of community transmission as well. “From March 24 onwards, these teams will monitor all people to find if anyone is showing symptoms. We cannot focus only those with foreign travel history, as they could have spread it to others already,” he said. 

Andhra Pradesh on Monday announced the seventh positive case of COVID-19 in the state. This patient was the first among the seven to have arrived in Andhra Pradesh through the international airport in Visakhapatnam. While one among the other six was a case of local transmission, five of the patients had entered Andhra Pradesh by road or rail, after landing in Hyderabad or Chennai.