The Ernakulam district administration in Kerala has ordered the private health sector and non-governmental agencies to be roped in to contain the spread of the coronavirus outbreak in the state, The News Minute reported on Tuesday. Kerala has the second-most COVID-19 cases in India after Maharashtra.

Ernakulam is the first district in India where the private health sector has been involved by a government order. Kerala has reportedly been facing severe shortage of trained medical personnel who can identify and quarantine the affected patients.

In an order issued on March 15, Ernakulam District Collector S Suhas, in his capacity as the empowered officer under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, ordered medical and paramedical staff of various private hospitals and non-governmental institutions to be made available to the agencies involved in controlling the spread of coronavirus. Suhas said the staff should be made available from these establishments without affecting their routine activities.

The collector also said that the Kochi commissioner of police, the Ernakulam superintendent of police, and the sub-divisional magistrates of districts can contact the hospitals and other agencies who can spare medical and paramedical staff to help contain the spread of the infection, in consultation with the district health authority.

Suhas also ordered that educational institutions, hostels, hotels and unoccupied rooms in private hospitals be used to quarantine and treat patients.

The Union Health Ministry on Tuesday said Kerala has 24 coronavirus cases, including two foreigners. The number also includes three patients who were discharged last month after their recovery.

Indian authorities continue to defend the country’s restrictive testing policy, which has resulted in among the lowest testing rates in the world. Until March 13, fewer than 6,000 people had been tested in India. Only those with recent travel history to affected countries or those known to have come in contact with confirmed cases and with symptoms of the disease are being tested.

Also read: ‘Test, test, test every suspected case,’ says WHO; India maintains it is not rational