The Moving Curve: Episode 11

Hello and welcome to Episode 11 of The Moving Curve. Every night I consider one question around the novel coronavirus epidemic in India. Tonight I’m pondering this: will testing millions of people make life after the lockdown safe?

The ICMR today recommended that states begin mass rapid antibody testing: https://icmr.nic.in/sites/default/files/upload_documents/Advisory_Antibody_Testing_04042020.pdf

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What do we hope we are going to get by testing millions of people? Right now, all that most of us can think of is a world under lockdown. In this world, no one comes into contact with anyone else, and so only a trickle of new cases show up every day, linked to people who first flew in from overseas. But unless every single person — or at least a large sample population- in India gets a diagnostic RT-PCR test in the next ten days, we’re not going to know who has it and be able to isolate them. We’re not going to know it hasn’t spread deeper in.

Mass serological tests will only be largely able to tell us who has already had it. That’s useful for a government to know, but again provides us no protection at an individual level.

When lockdowns lift and those asymptomatic carriers of the virus who never got a diagnostic test head back into the streets, there will be spikes and resurgences — not just one more but many more. And that’s just within closed national borders.

Let’s certainly test as much as we can in the next few days. But let’s be realistic about what even expanded testing will be able to do. It will not make the world outside on April 14 safe, just yet.

Thanks for listening. This episode was edited by Anand Krishnamoorthi. Tomorrow — a new episode.

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I am a data journalist based in Chennai, India.

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