Authorities grapple with contact tracing as cases increase in Pune

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Problems in contact tracing in Pune’s highly infected slum clusters are contributing to the continuing spike in novel coronavirus cases in the city, district administration officials told The Hindu on Wednesday.

“In the last few days, it has been observed that a number of random cases have been reported from the highly infected wards in the red zone. As far as can be ascertained, these new cases do not seem to be contacts of previously diagnosed cases,” an official, who did not want to be named, said. He expressed alarm that if the surge was not reined in soon, then Pune’s slum clusters might go the Mumbai way.

However, Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) Commissioner Shekhar Gaikwad said it was too soon to draw inferences from the continuing rise in cases. Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Gaikwad said that swab testing in the five wards that house the highly infected slum clusters was being done in a focused manner.

“On Tuesday, we had a significant increase of 122 positive cases in the city. We have already identified and tested 9 to 10 contacts of each of these cases. Going by past experience, 90% of these contacts return negative. I don’t think tracing is a major problem as yet. But we cannot definitively say how long this spike will continue or whether this rise is indicative of a tapering-off in the near future,” the Commissioner said.

Detailing the tentative course of action planned by the civic body in the event the Centre and the State eased the lockdown after May 3, he said the PMC planned to create ‘micro clusters’ to segregate these ‘infected zones’ from the rest of the city, while possibly reviving activity in the lesser-infected areas.

“For instance, if Patil in Shivajinagar has reported a significant number of positive cases, then we will seal off this cluster and all adjoining areas around a 100-metre radius. The other establishments in the zone could be allowed to function normally,” said Mr. Gaikwad, adding as Aundh-Baner and Kothrud are in the green zone, a number of establishments may be allowed to function.

Of the 1,100-odd active positive cases in Pune, five wards — Shivajinagar-Ghole Road, Bhawani Peth, Kasba-Vishrambaugwada, Dhole Patil Road and Yerwada-Kalas-Dhanori — account for more than 950 of them, while the Kasba and Bhavani Peth areas have reported 25 of the 80 deaths within the city.

The district recorded 300 new cases over the past 72 hours, witnessing a record surge of more than 140 cases on Tuesday, of which 122 alone were from Pune city.

Meanwhile, Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC) Commissioner Shravan Hardikar said nothing definitely could be said about easing the lockdown until clear guidelines were forthcoming from the Centre or the State after May 3.

“While we certainly are preparing an action plan to revive activity within the township, we are doubtful about permitting movement of people from the PCMC area to Pune city, given that the maximum cases are in the latter zone,” he said.

Mr. Hardikar further said while the PCMC had thus far managed to contain the spread of the contagion with only 70-odd active cases presently, there was an incremental rise in positive cases which made it imperative for controls to remain in place.

“While our rate of doubling of cases is 14 days as opposed to that of the PMC, we have been witnessing a rise of 5 to 10 cases in the last couple of days,” he said.

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