In a controversial development regarding COVID-19 pandemic management, the Karnataka government on Saturday passed a notification prohibiting labs of informing patients immediately once they test positive for the novel coronavirus. They said that the labs will have to send the details to respective district administration or local bodies, who will then inform patients.
The decision sparked outrage from some activists and medical professionals as this may lead to more people ending up getting infected due to lack of timely intervention.
Dr CN Manjnath, state nodal officer for COVID-19 testing, said there is a need for the BBMP (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike) to ramp up their squad to tackle the current crisis so that they can act much more swiftly. He said, “At this point there are some constraints, they are trying to digitally streamline the process further and reduce the inconvenience. We cannot let patients wait without a follow up. So the government has told us that we have to hire more ambulances and other infrastructure.”
Taking it to Twitter, Tara Krishnaswamy, a Bengaluru-based activist said, “Not informing positives immediately due to data logjam could cost lives and exacerbate spread. Please rectify the order immediately; your obligation is to people, not data.”
A public health professional aware of the COVID-19 situation in the state criticised the move too. Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said, “Particularly, we should be careful that infected people do not wander around spreading the infection. Hence, during this 4-5 hours, they should be in strict quarantine. This order only helps administrators for arranging logistics and isolation facilities.”
But a BBMP officer involved in COVID-19 surveillance work for the disease defended the decision. He said, “The decision was made to streamline the entire exercise. Labs often have too much data to feed to the portal through which we get information and often the lag is 4-5 hours. In this mean time, often patients panic and call us or elected representatives. But once we have aggregate data of patients, we can work much more efficiently in a systematic manner.”
Further Dr Pradeep Banandur, an epidemiologist working at National Institute of Mental Health And Nuuerological Sciences and closely working with the state government defended the move citing practicalities.
He said, “Although the concerns raised by those opposing the move are genuine. In the past days we have seen that people often panic and try to make their own arrangements or go to their hospital of their choice. This multiplies the chance of infection where as per protocol it is expected those who are being tested remain isolated until test results are out.”
Details of notification
The notification dated Saturday (June 27) signed by Om Prakash Patil, Director of Karnataka Health and Family Welfare Services has asked both government and private labs not to inform the patients directly.
The text of the notification reads, “Maintaining the confidentiality of the result status is also crucial. Therefore, exercising power under Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 (Central Act 3 of 1897) & also in view of public interest, the following notification is made.”
“1. The COVID Positive result status should not be conveyed to the individual by the authorities of the Govt Private Laboratories by any means.
2. All Govt, Private Laboratories should upload the details of COVID positive & negative cases in the ICMR Portal daily.
3. The details of the Positive results should be submitted to the concerned District Surveillance Officers, COVID Surveillance officer, BBMP, Bengaluru & State Surveillance Unit, Bengaluru,” the notification stated.