A week after Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said that asymptomatic people should refrain from getting tested for coronavirus, the state government appeared to make a U-turn on Saturday, saying it was up to the ICMR to change guidelines “for testing to increase”.
Speaking to reporters, Health Minister Satyendar Jain said “testing could be opened for all” if the ICMR guidelines allow. Aam Aadmi Party Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh said the process for getting tested should be eased and be like “any other pathological test”, saying this was the only way to contain the disease.
Singh said he had also written to Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan to do away with the “stringent guidelines” of the ICMR and make testing facilities more accessible. “I have requested him to provide licences to more pathological labs and to provide more testing kits to state governments. If a person feels they have symptoms, they should immediately go to the nearby lab and get tested,” Singh said.
Delhi is conducting over 13,000 tests per million currently, among the highest in the country. However, as its submission in the High Court on Thursday shows, it is still not testing to capacity. While its 17 government and 23 private labs can test 8,600 samples per day, the number stood at 5,947 on June 12.
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Criticising five state governments, including Delhi, for the handling of the pandemic, the Supreme Court on Friday asked for a “steep increase” in testing. It also asked states to “consider simplifying the procedure so that more and more tests (could) be held to benefit the patients”.
Earlier, in the first week of June, the AAP government had issued notices to several labs for not following guidelines by testing asymptomatic individuals who did not fit the ICMR’s parameters. On June 2, the Kejriwal government tweaked the guidelines to remove asymptomatic direct and high-risk contacts of confirmed cases from those eligible for testing. It restricted testing to only those direct and high-risk contacts who were diabetics, patients of hypertension, cancer or senior citizens.
On June 6, Kejriwal warned that facilities in Delhi might get overwhelmed if people without symptoms too came for testing. “Asymptomatic people should not insist on getting tested. If they are going to get tested, then serious patients will suffer,” he said.
The government’s order changing testing guidelines was struck down by Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal two days later.
On Saturday, Jain too warned that changing guidelines would mean people would get tested “whether or not they have symptoms”, but added, “The ICMR guidelines need to be altered for testing to increase… testing can be opened for all if the guidelines allow”.
AAP MP Sanjay Singh said: “We are sitting on a ticking time bomb that can explode anytime because we do not know the actual number of people who are affected because tests are not being allowed for all. If more people can get tested and if they are found positive, they will either go for home isolation or other treatments that will help us contain the spread of corona.”
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Singh also claimed “a false narrative” about cases in Delhi, claiming the Capital was only seeing a high number because it was testing quite a lot. “We should do away with such blame games… if the ICMR guidelines are changed, any person will be able to get tested. Till the time people do not know whether they are positive or not, the spread of the virus cannot be contained.”
AAP MLA Saurabh Bharadwaj also said that testing restrictions should be done away with. “Why do we need ICMR guidelines to restrict testing? Why should there be any kind of government control on testing? Covid test should be done just like any other test — blood sugar, malaria, typhoid,” he said.
As per the ICMR guidelines, Covid-19 testing is currently available to only symptomatic individuals with a history of international travel in the past 14 days, symptomatic contacts of laboratory-confirmed cases, symptomatic healthcare workers / frontline workers involved in containment and mitigation of Covid-19, patients of Severe Acute Respiratory Infections, asymptomatic direct and high-risk contacts of a confirmed case, and symptomatic people in hotspots/containment zones.
Testing figures for Delhi, based on the daily health bulletin, were 5,464 on June 10; 5,077 on June 11; and 5,360 on June 12. Covid cases on the corresponding days were 1,501; 1,877; and 2,137.
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