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Coronavirus outbreak: More testing centres needed, states should contain cases locally, says PGIMER director

On an average, 50 tests are being conducted daily, right now at PGIMER, Chandigarh

Updated: Mar 22, 2020 01:29 IST

By Amanjeet Singh Salyal, Hindustan Times Chandigarh

As Covid-19 cases surge, Amanjeet Singh Salyal talks to Dr Jagat Ram, director, Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, about the state of preparedness and shortcomings therein at the institute and in the region. He claims the premier institute is all prepared to tackle the situation, but cautions neighbouring states to do their bit.

Do we have enough Covid-19 testing facilities?

At the PGIMER, we can test samples of 100 people a day. On an average, 50 tests are being conducted daily, right now. The reagents (mixture for use in chemical analysis) are being procured on a regular basis from the National Institute of Virology, Pune, and Indian Council of Medical Research. If the number of cases spike, the region will need more testing facilities. The load should be shared, as the capacity here is limited. To start with, Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh should test all their cases (they are testing some) at their own healthcare facilities. Similarly, Government Medical College and Hospital in Sector 32, Chandigarh, should push for starting a testing facility at the earliest.

“We are experiencing a minor shortage of N95 masks and personal protection equipment. Orders for 5,000 PPE have been placed. They are expected by Monday. We have recently procured more than one lakh masks and gloves,” says Dr Jagat Ram. ( HT Photo )

Do we need a more aggressive approach towards testing as the fear of community transmission is rising?

We have not reached the stage of community transmission, and I don’t feel that the time is ripe for random sampling. The PGIMER has been asking people who feel to be symptomatic (showing symptoms of coronavirus infection, such as cough, fever and breathlessness) to call on the helpline number provided by the administration and not come directly to the hospital. However, we do have a screening clinic at the institute’s entrance. Also, if a person has returned from abroad and is having symptoms, they are immediately isolated and tested for Covid-19. Even contact tracing is conducted for that patient, and those who show symptoms or are at high risk (such as the elderly) are confined and tested. For asymptomatic patients, strict home quarantine is advised.

What kinds of requirement are there on infrastructure front?



Sufficient infrastructure is available, and more will be created, as per the requirement. The extension block of Nehru Hospital will be converted into an isolation facility if the need arises, which is quite a possibility. In that block, we have 30 beds and 10 ventilators. The present isolation ward at Nehru Building has 15 beds and four functional ventilators. For children, an isolation facility with five ventilators has been secured at the advanced paediatric centre. No demand has been put forth to the central government as of now.



What are the preparations on workforce front?

Hundred doctors from the internal medicine department will be the front-line force. Thirty-five others in the emergency ward are also on alert. As far as nurses, paramedics and allied staff are concerned, a total of 120 have been assigned duties for Covid-19 patients. They will work in shifts. Besides this, 100 more faculty members from different departments form the second line, who will be pressed into service when the need arises.

Your suggestions to the authorities in neighbouring states?

Contain the patients locally. Don’t let them travel to the PGIMER. We appeal to the authorities in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir that people should not be referred to Chandigarh, as it may further spread the infection.

Do you have enough protective gear for the staff?

We are experiencing a minor shortage of N95 masks and personal protection equipment (PPE). Orders for 5,000 PPE have been placed. They are expected by Monday. We have recently procured more than one lakh masks and gloves.

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