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  Table of Contents  
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 38  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 128-133

Can The March of COVID-19 be Halted

1 Department of Microbiology, G B Pant Hospital, Delhi, India
2 Department of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, GRIPMER, Delhi, India
3 Department of Microbiology, FMHS, SGT University, Gurugram, Haryana, India
4 Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Medical Sciences, Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, Delhi, India
5 Department of Clinical Microbiology, Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences, Delhi, India
6 Department of Microbiology, Dr. Dangs Lab, Delhi, India
7 Department of Microbiology, SGT Medical College, Hospital and Research Institute, Delhi, India
8 Department of Clinical Virology, Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences, Delhi, India

Date of Submission28-Apr-2020
Date of Acceptance17-Jun-2020
Date of Web Publication25-Jul-2020

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Chand Wattal
Department of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, GRIPMER, Delhi - 110 060
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijmm.IJMM_20_178

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How to cite this article:
Loomba P, Wattal C, Chakravarti A, Dutta S, Chabbra M, Kale P, De D, Broor S, Gupta E. Can The March of COVID-19 be Halted. Indian J Med Microbiol 2020;38:128-33

How to cite this URL:
Loomba P, Wattal C, Chakravarti A, Dutta S, Chabbra M, Kale P, De D, Broor S, Gupta E. Can The March of COVID-19 be Halted. Indian J Med Microbiol [serial online] 2020 [cited 2020 Aug 7];38:128-33. Available from:

A half-day continuing medical education was held on 8 February 2020 on 'Can the march of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) be halted' organised by IAMM (Delhi Chapter) at the auditorium of the G B Pant Hospital, New Delhi. Around 75 members took part in the CME, and the proceedings are being presented for the benefit of the readers. Four presentations were made, and the issues of practical significance in handling this pandemic were discussed.

 ~ Current Situation, Case Definition, Screening and Identification of Patients Top

With a total of 2,241,359 confirmed cases and 152,551 deaths (updated 19 April 2020), the outbreak of COVID-19 is unabated and evolving![1] On 27 December 2019, the WHO was alerted of cases of pneumonia, in the Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China, which was epidemiologically linked to 'Huanan seafood and wet animal wholesale market'.[2] On 7 January 2020, the rapid response team of China CDC confirmed identification of new/novel coronavirus named '2019-nCoV' responsible for the outbreak, however later on, 11 February 2020, the WHO announced the name 'COVID-19' for the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus in accordance with the World Organization for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.[3] Subsequently, human-to-human transmission was reported when the disease was confirmed from people who had not visited the Wuhan seafood market but had been in close contact of people who were sick with the virus.[4],[5] By 13 January 2020, the virus crossed international borders and on 30 January 2020. the WHO declared the outbreak, a global public health emergency of international concern with 28 countries involved.[6] COVID-19 was declared as a pandemic by the WHO on 11 March 2020 when there were more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries and 4291 people had lost their lives.[7]

At present, there are seven coronaviruses that can affect human beings.[8] Four are endemic human coronaviruses which can cause 15%–30% of mild upper respiratory tract infections each year and sometimes can cause severe pneumonia or influenza-like illness in susceptible population.[8] These are HCoV-229E, HCoV-OC43, HCoV-NL-63 and HCoV-HKU1.[8] The other three are zoonotic viruses that have caused infection in humans.[8] These coronaviruses have been identified in several avian hosts, as well as various mammals including civet cats and dromedary camels.[8],[9] They are SARS-CoV-1 (severe acute respiratory syndrome which had caused 2003 outbreak of SARS and originated from China, MERS-CoV, responsible for causing Middle east respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2012 and most recently the COVID-19 which is also proposed to have a zoonotic origin though the exact host has not been identified.[8],[9] Infections by these viruses have a mortality rate of 10%, 34.4% and 2.2%, respectively.[9]

The SARS-CoV-2 belongs to order nidovirales, family Coronaviridae, subfamily coronavirinae, genus Betacoronavirinae and subgenus Sarbecovirus. Genetic recombination occurs within members of same or different genera of this group of viruses, providing opportunity for increased genetic diversity, leading to spill over to other species and result in the emergence of a novel virus.[9]

In India, we follow the updated case definitions as released by the Government of India. The case definition has been updated time to time by the National Centre for Disease Control, Directorate General of Health Services Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW), Government of India.[10] The updated definition is as follows:[10]

Suspect case

A patient with acute respiratory illness (fever and at least one sign/symptom of respiratory disease [e.g., cough, shortness of breath]), AND a history of travel to or residence in a country/area or territory reporting local transmission of COVID-19 disease during the 14 days prior to symptom onset; OR a patient/healthcare worker (HCW) with any acute respiratory illness AND having been in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case in the last 14 days prior to onset of symptoms; OR a patient with severe acute respiratory infection (fever and at least one sign/symptom of respiratory disease [e.g., cough, shortness breath]) AND requiring hospitalisation AND with no other aetiology that fully explains the clinical presentation; OR a case for whom testing for COVID-19 is inconclusive.

Laboratory-confirmed case

A person with laboratory confirmation of COVID-19 infection, irrespective of clinical signs and symptoms.

Updated definition of contact

A contact is a person who is involved in any one of the following:

  • Providing direct care without proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for COVID-19 patients
  • Staying in the same close environment of a COVID-19 patient (including workplace, classroom, household and gatherings)
  • Travelling together in close proximity (1 m) with a symptomatic person who later tested positive for COVID-19.

High-risk contact

  • Touched body fluids of the patient (respiratory tract secretions, blood, vomit, saliva, urine and faeces)
  • Had direct physical contact with the body of the patient including physical examination without PPE
  • Touched or cleaned the linens, clothes or dishes of the patient
  • Lives in the same household as the patient
  • Anyone in close proximity (within 3 feet) of the confirmed case without precautions
  • Passenger in close proximity (within 3 feet) of a conveyance with a symptomatic person who later tested positive for COVID-19 for more than 6 h.

Low-risk contact

  • Shared the same space (same class for school/worked in same room/similar and not having a high risk exposure to confirmed or suspect case of COVID-19)
  • Travelled in same environment (bus/train/flight/any mode of transit) but not having a high-risk exposure.

 ~ Guidelines for Community-Based Tracing and Management of Contacts for Coronavirus Disease 2019 Top

A contact is defined as a person who provided care to the suspected or confirmed case, including a HCW or family member, or anyone with close physical contact and anyone who stayed at the same place (e.g., lived with, visited) while the suspected or confirmed case was symptomatic. This should include all HCWs (including those involved in cleaning, waste management and laboratory technicians) The contacts are to be followed for 28 days from the date of the probable last exposure/arrival from COVID-19-affected countries. If symptoms of COVID-19 appear within 28 days of the contact, the individual should be considered a suspected case and reported through the Integrated Disease Surveillance Program network of NCDC.[11]

 ~ Transmission and Incubation Period Top

Person-to-person transmission among close contacts (about ≤ 6 feet) occurs mainly via respiratory droplets such as spread of influenza and other respiratory viruses.[4],[8] The infection commonly spreads from a symptomatic person, though spread from asymptomatic persons has been reported, but it is rare. The incubation period of COVID-19 ranges from 2 to 14 days, with a median of 5.2 days, and the transmission rate is 3–4 new cases from a single confirmed or probable case.[4] People of all age groups are susceptible though the mortality is higher in elderly and those with co-morbidities, as reported by China's National Health Commission, about 80% of those who died were over the age of 60 and 75% had pre-existing comorbidities.[12],[13] Older people, and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease), appear to be more vulnerable to severe disease.[12],[13]

 ~ Prevention Top

Currently, no vaccination is available, therefore, prevention is better than cure. Avoid going to crowded places which is especially applicable for all airborne respiratory diseases. Spread by droplet infection is the mode of human-to-human spread of COVID-19. In case of respiratory infection, the person should limit contact with others, and respiratory and cough etiquettes must be followed. Cover mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing with a tissue paper. Use the nearest waste receptacle to dispose the tissue after use and perform hand hygiene (e.g., hand washing with non-antimicrobial soap and water, alcohol-based hand rub or antiseptic hand wash) after having contact with respiratory secretions and contaminated objects/materials. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hand which is an important source of infection. Use of an alcohol-based hand rub with at least 60% alcohol is a good but costly alternative if soap and water is not available. The WHO's six steps of hand hygiene should be followed. HCWs attending to suspected cases of COVID-19 should wear PPE.[14] One should also wear PPE while collecting the respiratory sample for laboratory tests. A normal person does not require a mask to attend to his routine errands. By wearing a mask, one is actually increasing his/her chances of infection because it is unlikely that one can keep on wearing a mask without fiddling with it now and then, thereby touching the face and getting infected.[15]

 ~ Sample Collection, Transport and Precautions While Handling the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Specimens Top

Sample collection

  1. Respiratory specimens – Nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal swabs are recommended in ambulatory patients. Sputum and/or endotracheal aspirate, bronchoalveolar lavage or tissu e or lung biopsy can also be used for diagnosis. Specimens should be transported in a viral transport medium at 4°C
  2. Significance of serum sample in SARS-CoV-2 testing – For antibody detection against pan-coronavirus antigen, paired samples should be collected: acute (1st week of illness) and convalescent (2–3 weeks later). For transport of samples for viral detection, avoid repeated freezing and thawing of specimens.

All samples should be transported to laboratory without delay. The frequency of specimen collection should be at least every 2–4 days until there are two consecutive negative results in a clinically recovered patient at least 24 h apart.

The details of sample collection, storage and transport are given by the MOHFW.[16]

 ~ Transport of Specimen Top

All specimens should be transported in triple-layered packaging as follows:[16]

  1. Primary receptacle: A leakproof container with absorbent material is sealed
  2. Put in a secondary package: The primary container should be further sealed in a leakproof plastic bag
  3. Rigid outer box: This forms the last layer of packaging.

[TAG:2]Precautions to Be Followed during Specimen Collection and Testing[14][/TAG:2]

  • Hand hygiene
  • PPE:

    • Sequence of donning and doffing of PPE must be followed
    • Gloves – nitrile, powder free, cuff length should preferably reach the mid-forearm
    • Face shield – fit snuggly against the forehead, fog resistant (preferable), completely cover the sides and length of the face
    • Goggles – Good seal with the skin of the face, easily fit with all face contours with even pressure
    • Mask – For procedures generating aerosols such as endotracheal intubation or bronchoscopy, respiratory protection with fit-tested National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-certified disposable N95 respirator is recommended. It filters at least 95% of airborne particles (PM 2.5) but is not resistant to oil.

The revised strategy of COVID-19 testing in India (Version 3, dated 20/03/2020), was given by the Indian Council of Medical Research.[17]

 ~ Current Testing Strategy Top

  1. All asymptomatic individuals who have undertaken international travel in the last 14 days:

    • They should stay in home quarantine for 14 days
    • They should be tested only if they become symptomatic (fever, cough and difficulty in breathing)
    • All family members living with a confirmed case should be home quarantined.

  2. All symptomatic contacts of laboratory-confirmed cases
  3. All symptomatic HCWs
  4. All hospitalised patients with severe acute respiratory illness (fever and cough and/or shortness of breath)
  5. Asymptomatic direct and high-risk contacts of a confirmed case should be tested once between day 5 and day 14 of coming in his/her contact.

    • Direct and high-risk contact include those who live in the same household with a confirmed case and HCWs who examined a confirmed case without adequate protection as per WHO recommendations.

 ~ Tests for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-Cov-2 Top

  • No validated seroassays are available
  • Only molecular nucleic acid amplification test such as real-time polymerase chain reaction are recommended: WHO-guided protocol and sequences available in the Global Initiative on Sharing of All Influenza Data should be used.[17] First-line screening assay need to detect E-gene, and the confirmatory assays need to detect RdRp and ORF 1b (ref). A standardised operating procedure needs to be followed.[18],[19]

 ~ Infection Prevention and Control Measures for Coronavirus Top

A multipronged strategy is required for infection prevention and control of coronavirus, which includes triage, early recognition and source control; standard precautions for all patients; empiric additional precautions for suspected cases of COVID-19 infection; administrative control and environmental and engineering controls.[14]

Triage, early recognition and source control

Using a questionnaire, identify patients at risk. Ensure stringent implementation of respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette by providing adequate supplies for the same which include alcohol-based hand rubs, tissues, no-touch receptacles for discard and face masks for healthcare facility entrance. The person under investigation should be given a triple-layered surgical mask and directed to an airborne infection isolation room. The infection control team and authorities should be informed.

In order to minimise the chances of exposure, care must be taken at two checkpoints:

  1. Before arrival: While scheduling appointment, give prior information and take appropriate measures. If patient is being transported in ambulance, the hospital must be informed
  2. Upon arrival and during visit: Care should be taken not to mix patients and a separate, well-ventilated space with a minimum of ≥6 feet interpatient distance must be made available with easy access to respiratory hygiene supplies.

Standard precautions for all patients

  1. Ensure respiratory hygiene measures such as cough etiquette, using medical mask for patients with suspected COVID-19 infection while they are in waiting/public areas/cohorting rooms and performing hand hygiene
  2. Patient placement
  3. Whenever possible, use adequately ventilated single rooms when performing aerosol-generating procedures, meaning negative pressure rooms with a minimum of 12 air changes per hour or at least 160 litres/second/patient in facilities with natural ventilation. When single rooms are not available, patients should be grouped together, ensuring interbed distance of at least 1 m.[14],[20]

Empiric additional precautions for healthcare workers for suspected cases of coronavirus disease 2019 infection

  1. An exclusive team of HCWs must be deployed with adequate PPE including gloves, gown, mask/respirators and eye protection
  2. N95 respirator must be used before entry and should be removed and discarded at exit point (outside patient's room after closing the door). In case of reusable respirators, cleaning and disinfection must be as per manufacturers' instructions
  3. Hand hygiene must be performed after discarding the respirator
  4. New set of PPE must be used every time
  5. Single-use and disposable equipment is preferable or dedicated equipment per patient (e.g., stethoscopes and thermometers). If equipment has to be shared among patients, ensure cleaning and disinfection between use (e.g., 70% ethyl alcohol)
  6. Use designated portable X-ray equipment and/or other important diagnostic equipment
  7. HCWs must avoid touching face and eyes with contaminated gloves/bare hands
  8. Transport of patients must be avoided and if absolutely necessary, use predetermined transport routes taking standard precautions, and the area where patient is being transported must be notified
  9. Records of patient staff and visitors must be maintained
  10. Airborne precautions for aerosol-generating procedures such as tracheal intubation, non-invasive ventilation, tracheotomy, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, mechanical ventilation and bronchoscopy must be taken. Ensure these procedures are done in an adequately ventilated room with air flow of at least 160 litres/second/patient or negative pressure with at least 12 air changes/h. Standard precautions must always be implemented stringently. Important to note is the use of fluid-resistant waterproof gowns for procedures with potential of spill.

Administrative control

It is equally important to have a proper administration in place to ensure proper implementation of Infection prevention and control (IPC). This includes:

  1. Educating patient caregivers
  2. Developing policies for early recognition of COVID-19
  3. Ensuring access to prompt laboratory testing
  4. Preventing overcrowding, especially in emergency department
  5. Providing dedicated waiting areas for symptomatic patients
  6. Ensuring appropriate isolation of hospitalised patients
  7. Ensuring adequate PPE supplies and adherence to IPC policies

Environmental and engineering controls

Engineering of healthcare setting environment plays a crucial role in IPC.

  1. Ensure adequate ventilation in all areas
  2. Spatial separation of at least 1 m between patients to be ensured
  3. Ensure cleaning and disinfection with freshly prepared 1% sodium hypochlorite or 5% Lysol. Spray the surface with 0.5%–1% solution of sodium hypochlorite. The contact period of the chemical with the surface should be a minimum of 30 min. Disinfect all external surfaces of specimen containers thoroughly (using an effective disinfectant) prior to transport, for example, sodium hypochlorite at 1%, 500 ppm available chlorine (i.e., 1:100 dilution of household bleach at initial concentration of 5%) or 5% Lysol[14]
  4. Ensure proper management of laundry, food service utensils and medical waste.

Recommendations for outpatient care include triage and early recognition; implementation of hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene and masks; taking contact and droplet precautions; prioritisation of symptomatic patient care; having separate waiting area and educating patients and families about early recognition of symptoms and basic precautions.

 ~ Quarantine Top

For contacts of laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19, the WHO recommends that such persons be quarantined for 14 days from the last time they were exposed to a COVID-19 patient.[21] The home quarantine period is for 14 days from contact with a confirmed case or earlier if a suspect case (of whom the index person is a contact) turns out negative on laboratory testing.[21]

 ~ Discharge Policy Top

The MOHFW has given guidelines for the discharge of the suspected patients.[22] Clinical samples of any suspect/probable case of COVID-19 will be sent for laboratory confirmation to the designated laboratories. The case will be kept in isolation at a health facility till the time of receipt of laboratory results and given symptomatic treatment as per the existing guidelines. If the laboratory results for COVID-19 are negative, the discharge of such patients will be governed by his/her provisional/confirmed diagnosis, and it is up to the treating physician to take a decision. The case shall still be monitored for 14 days after his/her last contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case. In case the laboratory results are positive for COVID-19, the case shall be managed as per the confirmed case management protocol. The case shall be discharged only after evidence of chest radiographic clearance and viral clearance in respiratory samples after two specimens test negative for COVID-19 within a period of 24 h.

 ~ Unresolved Issues Top

As we all know that this is a new virus, there are unresolved questions for which we may find the answers as the days will pass. The exact source and route of transmission to humans is not clear. As of now, we are unsure that whether the virus got transmitted from human to human and the transmissibility is very high as compared to other coronaviruses. The incubation period of 14 days is also not yet confirmed, and it is also unknown as to how long an asymptomatic carrier can transmit the infection. We may extrapolate the answers from the knowledge generated from the previous flu pandemic. The time of onset of fever after acquiring infection in a person is not known, hence the onset of transmission is also not known. Information about infections in paediatric population and its vertical transmission is also not known. By the time this commentary is in public domain, some of the truths might have get revealed, so we need to keep our mind open to the evolution of this virus.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

 ~ References Top

World Health Organization. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Report – 90. Available from: [Last accessed on 2020 Apr 20].  Back to cited text no. 1
Zhu N, Zhang D, Wang W, Li X, Yang B, Song J, et al. A novel coronavirus from patients with pneumonia in China, 2019. N Engl J Med 2020;382:727-33.  Back to cited text no. 2
World Health Organization. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Report – 22. Available from: [Last accessed on 2020 Mar 17].  Back to cited text no. 3
Li Q, Guan X, Wu P, Wang X, Zhou L, Tong Y, et al. Early transmission dynamics in Wuhan, China, of novel coronavirus-infected pneumonia. N Engl J Med 2020;382:1199-207.  Back to cited text no. 4
Liu YC, Liao CH, Chang CF, Chou CC, Lin YR. A locally transmitted case of SARS-CoV-2 infection in Taiwan. N Engl J Med 2020;382:1070-2.  Back to cited text no. 5
World Health Organization. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Report – 11. Available from: [Last accessed on 2020 Mar 17].  Back to cited text no. 6
World Health Organization. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Report – 11. Available from: [Last accessed on 2020 Mar 17].  Back to cited text no. 7
McIntosh K, Perlman S. Coronaviruses, including severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and middle east respiratory syndrome (MERS). In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, editors. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 8th ed.. Philadelphia: Elsevier; 2014. p. 1928-36.e. 2.  Back to cited text no. 8
Lee PI, Hsueh PR. Emerging threats from zoonotic coronaviruses-from SARS and MERS to 2019-nCoV. J Microbiol Immunol Infect 2020;20:30011-6.  Back to cited text no. 9
National Centre for Disease. 2019-nCoV Case Definitions. Available from: [Last accessed on 2020 Mar 17].  Back to cited text no. 10
National Centre for Disease. Guidelines on Clinical Management of Severe Acute Respiratory Illness (SARI) in Suspect/Confirmed Novel Coronavirus (nCoV) Cases. Available from: [Last accessed on 2020 Mar 17].  Back to cited text no. 11
World Health Organization. Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Available from: [Last accessed on 2020 Mar 17].  Back to cited text no. 12
Zhou F, Yu T, Du R, Fan G, Liu Y, Liu Z, et al. Clinical course and risk factors for mortality of adult in patients with COVID-19 in Wuhan, China: A retrospective cohort study. Lancet 2020. pii: S0140-6736 (20) 30566-3.  Back to cited text no. 13
National Centre for Disease. Detailed Guidelines for Infection Prevention Control for suspected cases of 2019-nCoV Acute Respiratory Disease. Available from: [Last accessed on 2020 Mar 17].  Back to cited text no. 14
Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Guidelines on use of Masks by Public. Available from: [Last accessed on 2020 Mar 17].  Back to cited text no. 15
Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Specimen Collection, Packaging and Transport Guidelines for 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Available from: [Last accessed on 2020 Mar 17].  Back to cited text no. 16
Indian council of Medical Research. Revised Strategy of COVID19 Testing in India Version 3; 20 March, 2020. Available from: [Last accessed on 2020 Mar 22].  Back to cited text no. 17
World Health Organization. Laboratory Testing for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Suspected Human Cases. Available from: [Last accessed on 2020 Mar 17].  Back to cited text no. 18
Indian Council of Medical Research. Guidance Document for State Nodal & Testing VRDLs for nCoV. Available from: [Last accessed on 2020 Mar 17].  Back to cited text no. 19
Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Guidelines on Clinical Management of COVID–19. Available from: [Last accessed on 2020 Mar 17].  Back to cited text no. 20
World Health Organization. Considerations for Quarantine of Individuals in the Context of Containment for Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Interim Guidance. Available from: [Last accessed on 2020 Mar 17].  Back to cited text no. 21
Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Discharge Policy of nCoV Case. Available from: [Last accessed on 2020 Mar 17].  Back to cited text no. 22


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