Assam has tested 2,17 lakh samples so far and plans to test 3 lakh people by June-end (File)
Assam will begin mass testing in Guwahati from Tuesday to check for community transmission of the novel coronavirus. Fears the outbreak may have reached the third stage - in which the source of infection in individual cases cannot be traced - have been raised amid a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases in the city with no travel history.
Similar fears have been raised over the outbreak across India but last week the centre firmly denied this, despite a spike in cases in Delhi and Mumbai.
At least 50,000 people will be tested, Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said, adding that if more than 500 were found to be positive the government could impose some restrictions, if not a total lockdown of the state.
The northeastern state has completed over two lakh tests so far; testing has been ramped up in recent days, with close to 10,000 samples tested every 24 hours across the state's 11 designated facilities.
There are, in fact, more samples than there are labs to test them in, leading to some being sent to other states. Another new lab will begin operation this week in Guwahati, government sources said.
"It is an achievement for us that we have ramped up testing in a big way and are doing much better than other states. This shows the dedications of each and every health worker, doctor and lab technician," Himanta Biswa Sarma told NDTV.
Praising medical staff for the "countless sleepless nights" spent in helping coronavirus patients, the minister also said: "Until we get a vaccine, strict quarantine and more testing is the only way to keep the virus away from community transmission.
"Our community testing in Guwahati will give us more clarity on the increase in cases with no travel history," he said to NDTV.
Workers wearing masks at a quarantine facility being set up in Assam
Starting Tuesday, COVID-19 testing will be carried out at petrol pumps (where trucks from outside the state load, unload and park), highway eateries and weigh bridges.
Samples will also be collected from 12 swab collection centres in the city.
Assam has tested 2,17,088 samples so far. It plans to test over three lakh people by the end of this month. The state's focused approach in fighting the crisis has resulted in relatively fewer cases so far.
Moreover, given the way it has scaled up medical infrastructure, it also has a good recovery rate - 53 per cent; 254 patients were discharged on Monday.
As of 10 PM Monday, Assam has reported a total of 4,158 COVID-19 cases. Eight deaths have been linked to the virus. As many as 2,166 people have been successfully treated and there are only 1,981 active cases.
Across India there are 3.32 lakh cases with 9,520 deaths linked to the virus.
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal will join 20 other state and union territory leaders in a video call with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at 3 PM Tuesday to discuss the coronavirus situation.