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Back to the basics on COVID-19 queues

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Dr Ajay Kumar, Assistant Professor, Department of Plant Science, School of Biological Sciences, Central University of Kerala, suggests that the segregation of people belonging to different groups and implementation of an online token system in the short term and RFID enabled Aadhaar card system in the long run will increase efficiency of the testing centres, reduce the risk of queue related COVID-infection and reduce the time of the people as well as COVID-19 warriors spent during queues

With the second wave of COVID-19 hitting the country and positive cases reaching over 2.5 lakhs per day, there are increasing queues of the people at the COVID-19 testing centres. The increasing cases are worrisome and so are queues.

To effectively manage the second wave of COVID-19, we must have a relook at the basics as to how to manage COVID-19 queues at the testing centres. Recently, I went for a test at a nearby community health centre and I had to wait for 40 minutes in the queue in an enclosed hall before the sample was collected for the RT-PCR test. It was surprising to see the arrangements made for sample collection for two reasons.

Firstly, all the people belonging to all age groups and irrespective of whether they were primary or secondary contacts, symptomatic or asymptomatic, were queued in the same enclosed hall.

Secondly, 95 per cent of the time was spent for collection of the token and manual registration of the details while it took less than a minute for the actual collection of the sample for RT-PCR test. The increased exposure time in the waiting hall also increases the chances of infection not only among the people but also among the COVID-19 warriors.

Considering the differential probability of positivity of the people belonging to different age groups and exposure groups, mixed queues have several flaws.

Firstly, mixing of symptomatic patients with others clearly increases the chances of COVID infection among the people who came on the basis of a doubt or just for the confirmation of any COVID infection.

Secondly, queueing of primary contacts, secondary contacts and those having no contacts also has flaws in the sense that primary contacts are more prone to the infection and mixing of them with other people would further enhance the chances of spread of COVID-19.

Mixed queues can be easily avoided by separating symptomatic and asymptomatic people, primary and secondary contacts from no contacts and thus reducing the risk of transmission of the infection. Finally the high risk-prone groups having comorbidities must be completely separated from the above mentioned groups during sampling.

In addition to separating people on the basis of differential risks and probabilities of positivity, it is also important to reduce the time spent during queues. The queue time can be reduced through short term and long term measures.

In the short term, an online token system can be introduced for the people who wish to take tests because maximum time was taken during token collection and registering details than the collection of samples by the medical staff for the test. Time spent standing in the queue first for the token collection, then for registering the details and then again for giving the samples can be easily avoided if the online token system is in place.

This reduction in the time will not only save the precious time of the COVID-19 warriors but also reduce their chances of exposure to COVID-19 virus. It will also reduce the chances of infection among the people coming for the testing.

The introduction of the online token system will enable the medical team in the back end to easily segregate the people belonging to different age groups, risk groups and exposure groups. These separate groups can be easily separated in time and space during the collection of the samples by giving different time slots to each group. That will increase efficiency of the testing centres, reduce the risk of queue related COVID-infection and reduce the time of the people as well as COVID-19 warriors spent during queues.

In the long term, the Aadhaar cards must be enabled with contactless technology such as radio-frequency identification technology like payment cards and FAStag. The contactless technology enabled Aadhaar cards will also be important in the long term India’s aspirations of digital India including distribution of ration.

(The author is PhD from School of Life Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and currently teaches at Central University of Kerala. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the opinion of the Central University of Kerala)

1 Comment
  1. Jasmine says

    Same is situation of queues for vaccination also. Hence, Dr. Ajay’s suggestion can be considered for vaccination as well.

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