As Surat continues to see a surge in Covid-19 positive cases, the local municipal corporation on July 1 wrote to at least three private laboratories conducting RT-PCR Covid-19 tests to “stop sample testing related work for four days,” for not reporting results within 24 hours of sample collection.
The notice from the SMC attributed the delay to be affecting the administration’s effort in controlling the “Covid-19 infection in community transmission.”
Three laboratories – Supratech, Sterling Accuris and Unipath – confirmed the receipt of such notice. All the three laboratories in Surat collect samples and then send it to head branches in Surat, or in the case of Sterling Accuris, to the Pangenomics laboratory in Ahmedabad, with whom they have a tie-up.
Dr Ashish Naik, deputy commissioner at SMC handling the health portfolio, however, said that only two laboratories were sent the notice. He did not explain the rationale behind the same at this point, despite the laboratories following the same protocol for more than a few weeks.
The notice issued on the letterhead of medical officer of health at SMC Dr Pradeep Umrigar as accessed by this paper, states that “for effective control of the infection, efficient measures to that effect by the administration, your laboratory has to send the report within 24 hour as of taking the sample. But your laboratory is not reporting results within 24 hours to the SMC. This is a serious matter. As a result there is a delay in controlling the Covid-19 infection in community transmission and cannot take effective measures in this regard. This is not in the interest of the city and its citizens’ health.”
“To this effect, state to the below mentioned authorities (SMC officials, including municipal commissioner, deputy health commissioner and additional director of health) on the system that will be put in place by you to mail reports to SMC in 24 hours to rectify the delay and sample testing related work will be suspended for four days. If a similar error happens in the future, proceedings shall be initiated under Gujarat Epidemic Regulations 2020 and your organisation shall be shut down along with initiating strict proceedings against you,” the notice added.
Dr Umrigar remained unavailable for comment.
A pathologist estimated that the three labs combined could be collecting as many as 100 samples each day from Surat.
Explaining the situation, Dr Hiren Dhanani with the Sterling Accuris laboratory said, “Since the past one week we have been sending two batches of samples to Ahmedabad, which make up approximately 50-60 samples a day from the earlier 15-20 samples. In Ahmedabad, it is tested at PanGenomics lab and they would notify the SMC authorities accordingly as per the cut-off time of 5 pm. I believe that given the increasing cases, keeping hospital beds occupied as suspected patients also have to be kept in isolation, becomes difficult. We only take samples of hospitalised patients. We met the authorities today and decided that we will be submitting results as soon as it is updated on our software, and not wait until the cut-off time. So say for the first batch, we expect the results to be in between 9 to 10 am and for the second batch, between 4 to 6 pm. We also got our NABL certificate yesterday and will be applying to ICMR and subsequently with the state government for testing at our lab in Surat as we have all the facilities.”
On July 1, director-general ICMR Dr Balram Bhargava had written to state chief secretaries “strongly recommending” authorities to not restrict testing in any way and further to fully utilise all Covid-19 laboratories’ capacities available.
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