More than 10 days after Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh announced that the state would be conducting 20,000 Covid-19 tests each day by the end of June, testing over the last nine days presented a very different picture. From June 30 to July 8, an average 6,738 tests were conducted per day.
On June 30, the day by which testing was to be ramped up to 20,000 in the state, only 3,878 tests were conducted. On July 7, a total of 4,479 tests were conducted, and between June 30 and July 8, the maximum number of tests conducted in a day were 8,354 on July 8, less than half the targeted daily capacity announced by the CM by June-end.
Officials associated with testing and sampling in Punjab say that “currently, Punjab has a testing capacity of 9,000 samples per day in three government medical colleges”. They were tight-lipped on the CM’s claims, saying it will depend on the timeline to create more testing facilities.
Punjab plans to come up with four testing centres, initially with a total capacity of testing 1,000 samples daily. But the figures of 3,878 and 4,479 tests a day show that the state has not even tested to its existing maximum capacity of 9,000 tests per day.
The Medical Education and Research department, which manages testing, and the Punjab health department, which collects samples, are blaming each other over the matter. While the former blames the latter for taking less samples, the latter says that pendency on the part of laboratories was forcing them to take fewer samples.
“We have a capacity of 9,000 tests daily in three government medical colleges. We test all samples which are sent to the laboratories. In June, there was not even a day when we did not test all the samples we received,” said Punjab Medical Education and Research Secretary D K Tiwari.
“Je 100 quintal di atta chakki aa te borian 25 aayian, 25 hi peesange (If there is a flour mill having a capacity to process 100 quintals of wheat, but it receives only 25 quintals of wheat, it will have to process that 25 quintals only),” he added.
Punjab Special Secretary (Health) and testing in-charge for Covid-19 Isha Kalia said that the capacity of 9,000 per day was an “ideal scenario”, where machines function round the clock with the adequate manpower. She said staff needed rest on Sunday and hence testing comes down in a day during the week. She further said that the health department was fully equipped to collect as many samples required, based on testing capacity.
“There have been instances when 10,500 and 9,500 samples were also sent last month per day,” said Kalia, adding that, “We had to slow down as our officials faced opposition from people in containment and micro-containment zones. People opposed collection of new samples in these areas saying reports of samples earlier taken were not out.”
She further said that Punjab had enhanced testing manifold, starting from scratch when the state had a testing capacity of merely 40 per day. As compared to the national average of 7,400 tests per million, Punjab was testing 11,181 per million, she said, adding that “We have surpassed Karnataka, Haryana, Maharashtra and Kerala (in tests per million).”
Kalia added that “to further ramp up testing, we are going for rapid antigen testing in Jalandhar, Amritsar, Patiala and Mohali. We have received 1,000 kits already and will use the kits for testing in four days. We will order more kits. We will test high risk people with these kits, which will give result in half an hour’s time. In addition to this, we have 15 Trunat machines in government hospitals where 1,200 to 1,300 tests have already been conducted.” She said more Trunat machines will be procured for testing.
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