Set up COVID labs at airports, health experts urge government

Updated: Mar 15, 2020, 07:54 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

A laboratory within the airport could help confirm suspected cases faster, a senior doctor said.

Mumbai's T2 Terminal saw a slow day on Saturday. Earlier this week, the Indian government suspended tourist visas to India until further notice. Pic/Anurag Ahire
Mumbai's T2 Terminal saw a slow day on Saturday. Earlier this week, the Indian government suspended tourist visas to India until further notice. Pic/Anurag Ahire

Health experts have suggested that a mini screening laboratory be installed at the city's domestic and international airport for faster detection of those infected with the coronavirus so that prompt action can be taken at the entry point itself.

"At present, we are screening the temperature of all international passengers arriving at the airport, and, in case of any suspicious or symptomatic cases, we send them to the designated hospital. A laboratory within the airport could help confirm suspected cases faster and also allow for faster implementation of preventive measures such as quarantine," explained a senior doctor, who recently appraised the state government about the same.

Dr Padmaja Keskar, executive health officer, BMC, said, "We are in the process of working out all modalities and are awaiting a go-ahead from our superiors to set up a laboratory at the airport. We already have thermal screens being used and, any suspected cases are being sent to Kasturba Hospital."

Dr Wiqar Shaikh, senior physician and allergy specialist, welcomed the suggestion. "At present, only Kasturba Hospital and the National Institute of Virology are accepting samples for testing, which is done twice a day. The swab is tested on the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machine, which can be installed at the airport and will be effective in early detection."

He added, "PCR machines should be installed at every international airport, as we are already using the thermal scan for detecting temperature. But, it is not helping detect COVID-19." The government, he said, should fast track permissions for installation of the machines on an emergency basis.

Dr Om Shrivasatava, infectious diseases expert attached to Jaslok Hospital, said, "The need of the hour is to minimise the spread. So far in India, including Mumbai, the 83 cases tested positive are those who have either directly or indirectly come in contact with a carrier, who has returned to the country from an affected country. Since we have zeroed in on the source of arrival, it is advisable to curtail them at the source of arrival itself."

Sunil Dhamne, joint municipal commissioner, public health, said, "In a meeting on Saturday, it was agreed that in addition to the three labs existing for testing COVID-19, KEM Hospital in Parel will also be used for testing and will be operational within the next few days."

Rajendra Patil

State Minister for Public Health voices support

Rajendra Patil, State Minister for Public Health and Family Welfare, said, "We have been informed that only the Central government can permit setting up of PCR laboratories, and that permission usually takes some time. Therefore, at this stage, Nagpur's Indira Gandhi Government Medical College & Hospital has been allowed to test for the virus. Private labs have not been granted permission," he said, adding that primary health centres and anganwadis have been directed to take all required precautions and explain hygiene practice to rural populations. "We are confident of curbing COVID-19."

04
The total number of testing labs to be available in Maharashtra in the coming week

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