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Behind Delhi’s Covid spike, government points to increased testing, delayed reports

Delhi is testing close to 2,800 people per million population, higher than other states like Maharashtra, where the testing rate per million is 1,237

Written by Astha Saxena , Mallica Joshi , Pritam Pal Singh | New Delhi | Updated: May 5, 2020 3:38:34 am
Behind Delhi’s Covid spike, government points to increased testing, delayed reports Pendency of tests has been a persistent problem over the past two weeks, with many people having to wait around 10 days for their reports. (Express file photo by Abhinav Saha)

Increased testing, more hotspots, and delay in receiving reports — these are among the factors that the Delhi government is attributing to the sudden jump in COVID-19 cases in the city, with over a third of the total 4,898 cases being seen in a week.

Till Monday, Delhi had tested over 64,108 people. Pendency of tests has been a persistent problem over the past two weeks, with many people having to wait around 10 days for their reports.

Delhi is testing close to 2,800 people per million population, higher than other states like Maharashtra, where the testing rate per million is 1,237. In Mumbai, it is around 890 per million. “The number of cases has jumped suddenly as several pending reports have come in over the past week. Pendency had reached over 9,000 but came down to around 3,700 in 3-4 days. Moreover, testing rate in Delhi is the highest. Our strategy is to test as many people as we can to isolate those who have the infection and return to normalcy. The number of cases in containment zones is rising, but since they are sealed, chances of an uncontrolled spread are not very high,” said a Delhi government official.

On Monday, the Delhi High Court directed the Delhi government to ensure swift testing of samples and declare results between 24-48 hours of collecting them. “It is further directed that the Delhi government continue updating its website on a regular basis to reflect correct number of tests being conducted for COVID-19, mention number of cases that are positive or negative and state number of pending results after tests are conducted,” a bench of Justice Hima Kohli and Justice Subramonium Prasad ordered.

Over the past few days, the government had stopped making public the information on the number of pending tests.

Delhi government’s Additional Standing Counsel Satyakam told the court that till Sunday evening, 3,790 tests were still pending with private and government laboratories authorised to analyse samples. The maximum pendency is at National Institute of Biologicals (NIB), Noida, he said. The Delhi government has sent close to 11,000 samples to the body.

The lab, meanwhile, stopped accepting new samples till May 6. It has tested 15,000 samples so far. Senior officials from the institute said the decision was taken to make sure bio-safety compliance for the equipment is maintained.

“The machines have to be maintained. Services will resume after two days but we will restrict the number of samples as per capacity,” said an official.

The institute has a capacity to test around 800 samples a day and gets samples from four states — Delhi, UP, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. “As the pendency increased, some samples were sent back to labs in Delhi while others were tested at the institute,” added the official.

Delhi stopped sending samples to the overworked lab a week ago. The union health ministry has also pulled up state governments over pendency, which, it said, increases the chance of people awaiting results infecting others.

The court, meanwhile, was hearing a plea by advocate Rakesh Malhotra, who said the Delhi government was not taking expeditious steps to furnish reports after conducting tests. Counsel Satyakam said there are 23 accredited labs that undertake COVID-19 testing in Delhi.

“Of these, 10 are in the public sector and 13 in private sector. The collective capacity of the labs are 3,000-3,500 tests per day,” he said, adding that reports will be received within 1-2 days of samples being received by labs.

The court disposed the plea, saying it was “satisfied that adequate remedial measures have been taken by the Delhi government to expedite receipt of reports for testing patients”.

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