Covid-19: Bengaluru still struggling in contact tracing

Covid-19: Bengaluru still struggling in contact tracing

Health workers at a free Covid-19 testing booth in Bengaluru on Thursday. DH Photo/B H Shivakumar

Karnataka’s efforts to trace Covid-19 patients’ contacts is improving with the help of booth-level interventions and use of technology, authorities said, but the situation in worst-hit Bengaluru Urban remains a concern. 

The latest official data paints a mixed picture on the effectiveness of contact tracing, which is a key aspect in containing the pandemic.

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IAS officer Munish Moudgil, who is in charge of the State Covid-19 War Room, said higher the number of contacts per person, the better the contact tracing programme is. “Else, if identification and quarantining does not take place, they spread Covid-19,” he said.

At the top of the contact, tracing pyramid is Chamarajanagar district with 16 people traced for every Covid-19 patient. Davangere and Mandya follow with 10.9 and 9.6 contacts respectively.

“Primary contacts get traced within two hours. Tracing secondary contacts is the challenge,” Deputy Chief Minister C N Ashwath Narayan said. “Earlier, there was a backlog in test reports that came in the way of contact tracing. But if you see now, the numbers are looking good.”

On the flip side, contact tracing data over 10 days from July 26 to August 5 shows Bengaluru Rural languishing at the bottom with 1.57 contacts per patient. In Bengaluru Urban, which has the largest number of total cases in the state, an average of 4.4 contacts are traced per patient.

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But how many contacts per person are required to authenticate the efficiency of contact tracing?

“Five is ideal,” explained Manoj Kumar Meena, IAS, Special Zonal officer for Bengaluru’s East Zone.

The numbers for Bengaluru nevertheless constitute an improvement compared to previous weeks, Moudgil added. “It used to be less than one contact per patient before. Deployment of booth-level officers and the use of the Contact Tracing App has made a difference,” he said.

Room for improvement

However, Bengaluru needs to up its game if it wants to rein in the pandemic. Several zones are still fumbling when it comes to tracing contacts.

According to the State War Room, only an average of 2.59 primary contacts is generated in total across all eight zonal areas. A slightly larger number of 3.20 secondary contacts are generated. R R Nagar generates only 3.6 contacts per patient followed by Bommanhalli, which is generating an average of 4.15 contacts per patient.

“This is not a particular challenge [limited to] Bommanahalli,” explained Captain P Mannivannan, Special Officer for Bommanahalli. “All zones are having a similar problem except South Zone, which has done well.”

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According to data, South Zone, where Moudgil is also the special officer, is generating 10.16 contacts per patient, outshined only by Dasarahalli which is generating 15.10 contacts.

The primary reason why zones are lagging is that many patients refuse to divulge who they have met and where Moudgil explained.

“Many are irresponsible and selfish. They don’t want their friends to blame them that they were put into quarantine due to information given by them,” he said.

Unknown transmission

According to a highly placed source, authorities have given up on identifying individual sources of the disease. The result is 87,521 Covid-positive people in the state with the unknown transmission.

“By adding incomplete contact tracing to this equation, we could see unknown clusters continuing to feed the transmission of the disease within communities,” a source said.