Coronavirus: India tracks possible cases through pharmacies

At least four states have started asking for records of people buying medicines for fever, coughs and colds

TOPSHOT - A homeless man wearing a facemask sits beside a portrait Mahatma Gandhi at a shelter camp set up by Telangana state Government during a 21-day government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Hyderabad on April 7, 2020. / AFP / NOAH SEELAM
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Several indian states have turned to pharmacies for help tracking down possible cases of Covid-19 as part of efforts to stop the country's coronavirus outbreak reaching crisis proportions.

India is in the midst of a five-week nationwide lockdown as authorities try to detect and isolate people infected with the highly contagious virus. However, its efforts are hampered by a poor health infrastructure and limited testing facilities.

As of Sunday, India had reported 16,960 infections and 550 deaths. The low numbers relative to its 1.3 billion population has raised fears that many cases are going undetected.

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Authorities in the states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Bihar are now asking pharmacies to take down the addresses and phone numbers of customers who buy medication for fever, coughs or colds, all symptoms of Covid-19, and pass them on to authorities so that these people can be contacted for testing.

Pharmacies in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have asked medical shops to report such sales daily, according to a report in the Indian Express.

The newspaper quoted officials in Telangana as saying they had found several cases of people taking medicines for fever and cold who later tested positive for the coronavirus. The state has reported 844 Covid-19 cases and 18 deaths.

In Pune, the second-largest city in Maharashtra, India's worst-affected state, police have ordered medical shops to submit a list of such purchases via WhatsApp by 8 pm every day or face legal action, according to the Express. Maharashtra has reported more than 3,600 cases and more than 200 deaths.

Health authorities in the northern state of Bihar have also asked for regular reports from pharmacies, the paper said.