Two key government laboratories conducting RT-PCR tests for the coronavirus in Bengaluru were forced to go offline on Monday after staff at the labs – which handle a huge chunk of the testing in Karnataka – reportedly tested positive for the virus.
A laboratory at the Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute which is part of the ICMR’s Virus Research and Diagnostic Laboratory network and a laboratory at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences in Bengaluru which handle together around 2,000 Covid-19 samples each day will not be operational for testing for a few days.
The two key labs have gone offline at a time when coronavirus cases in the city of Bengaluru are spiking and the state government has decided to impose a lockdown on localities in the city where a large number of cases are being reported.
A total of 1405 cases have been reported in Bengaluru since June 1 including 57 deaths since the lifting of the lockdown to curb transmission of the disease compared to 358 cases and 10 deaths reported between March 8 when the first case was documented and May 31.
“Only one attender has tested positive. The lab will be closed for a few days for fumigation,” said the head of the BMCRI VRDL facility and professor of microbiology Dr Ambica R. “At the Nimhans lab also there seems to be one positive case but I am not sure,” she said.
“I know of a positive case in the BMCRI lab but Nimhans lab I think they are closing for calibration and cleaning. At BMCRI one person has become a primary contact,” the nodal officer for Covid 19 testing in Karnataka Dr C N Manjunath said.
“The Nimhans lab will be shut for a week,” a government official tracking Covid 19 said.
With the BMCRI and Nimhans testing labs going offline a number of hospitals in Bengaluru began sending their Covid 19 test samples to the ICMR-National Institute of Virology field unit laboratory on Monday. “Normally we give our samples to the BMCRI and Nimhans labs but today we were forced to go to the NIV lab because the other two were closed,” said a lab technician from a private hospital who sent 20 samples to the ICMR NIV lab on Monday.
“There has been no official communication but we have been told orally that samples from two labs will be diverted to our lab for the next few days. We do not know the reason. We have informed some of the districts which were sending samples to us that we will not be in a position to handle them for a while,” said a senior official of the ICMR-NIV field unit laboratory.
The BMCRI, Nimhans and the ICMR-NIV labs have handled the bulk of Covid 19 testing in Karnataka – with each of them testing 1000 samples each day, and even more at the peak of testing three weeks ago when migrant workers began returning to the state. A record 15,728 samples were tested on May 30 for example as the state attempted to test all returning migrants from Maharashtra.
The BMCRI lab handles samples from all over Bengaluru barring districts of Ramanagara, Vijayapura and Kolar while the NIV lab handles Belagavi, Davangere, Tumkur and Bengaluru rural district samples.
Out of a total of 992 labs in the country, 76 are in Karnataka that includes 44 in the government sector and 32 in the private sector. Some of the smaller labs in the state have a capacity to handle around 40 to 50 samples a day putting more pressure on the main labs in Bengaluru.
There are a total of six government labs and 14 private labs with Covid-19 testing in Bengaluru.
At the peak of testing a few weeks ago 10,000 samples for testing were being piled up for days as some of the labs like the ICMR-NIV field lab went offline for two days to recalibrate and allow staff who have been working relentlessly since March to take a break.
“The cases piled up a few weeks ago because of the policy of testing all returnees from Maharashtra whether symptomatic or not. This policy has now changed and only symptomatic persons are being tested. This has eased the testing pressure to some extent. There is however an increase in the samples being received from the city of Bengaluru and there is an increase in the number of positivity results in these samples,” said an official of the ICMR-NIV lab in Bengaluru.
There are a record 919 active Covid-19 cases in Bengaluru as of Monday compared to 411 discharges resulting in key Covid -19 hospitals in the city spilling over with patients in recent days.
One of the alarming trends in Bengaluru has been the growing number of frontline workers testing positive for the virus. As many as 10 health care workers and 22 policemen have tested positive in 10 days apart from lab staff.
On Monday following a meeting on the Covid-19 between health officials and CM B S Yediyurappa the state government announced a plan for lockdowns in Bengaluru localities with a large caseload.
“Lockdown shall be implemented strictly in the clusters which have reported more cases. Areas such as VVPuram (18 cases as of June 21), SK Garden (18), S R Nagar (13), Siddapura (11) ,” the chief minister’s office said. “Covid 19 should be contained without affecting economic activities which have resumed,” chief minister B S Yediyurappa said.
Among the new positive cases reported in Karnataka on Monday were that of the father of the state medical education minister Dr K Sudhakar. “My father’s Covid 19 test has come out positive. Anxiously waiting for reports of other family members,” the minister said.
A total of 249 cases were reported in Karnataka on Monday including 126 from Bengaluru taking the total state cases to 9399 including 142 deaths.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines