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Centre writes to Maharashtra over low Covid testing, officials say drop due to fewer cases

Amid the ongoing surges of Covid-19 cases in some developed countries, health secretary Rajesh Bhushan has cautioned 13 states, including Maharashtra, about keeping up vigilance.

Written by Rupsa Chakraborty | Mumbai |
Updated: November 25, 2021 5:31:15 am
Covid testing in progress at Nerul Suburban Railway station in Navi Mumbai. (Express Photo by Amit Chakravarty)

RAISING CONCERN about the significant drop in weekly testing in Maharashtra, the Union health secretary wrote to the state government on Wednesday to boost up the surveillance amid the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions. However, the state government officials attributed the low testing to the low infection rate in the state.

Amid the ongoing multiple surges of Covid in a few developed countries despite high-level vaccination, Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan cautioned 13 states, including Maharashtra, about keeping vigilance considering the unpredictable and contagious nature of the infection.

“In the absence of a sustained level of sufficient testing, it is very difficult to determine the true level of infection spread in geography…(sic). Hence, all efforts must be implemented to preserve the gains made so far and to prevent deterioration of Covid-19 scenario across the country,” the letter read.

The department of health and family welfare stated that Maharashtra has reported 97,502 average daily tests as of the week ending November 22. “This is in stark contrast to a high of 2,68,501 average daily tests conducted in the week between May 17 and 23,” the letter said further.

Of the 36 districts in the state 25 of them, including Thane, Mumbai and Pune with the highest active Covid cases, decreased their weekly testing between November 15 and 21. Only 11 districts — prominently Jalgaon, Gadchiroli, Raigad, Nagpur — increased their testing.

Bhushan in his letter stated it is a cause of concern that nine districts — Akola, Amravati, Buldhana, Dhule, Gondia, Hingoli, Nandurbar, Washim and Yavatmal are conducting average tests per million per day below the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended number of 140 for the week ending November 22.

However, talking to The Indian Express, the collectors and district health officers (DHO) attributed the drop in testing due to the minimal number of active Covid cases. Data from the public health department shows that on November 23, Gondia didn’t have any active patients while Nandurbar and Washim had one active case each. Amravati had 44 patients, who are currently on treatment followed by Buldhana (15), Hingoli (14), Akola (9), Dhule (5) and Yavatmal (4).

Hingoli collector Jitendra Papalkar said that on November 24, the positivity rate of the district stands at 0.30%. “As we aren’t getting new cases, there has been a drop in testing of the close contacts of the infected patients. So, currently, we are running tests in areas, which have a high floating population like markers, bus and railway stations,” he said.

According to the letter, between November 15 and 21, Amravati has conducted 844 tests. This takes the testing per million population to 38 — the lowest among the districts.

Dr S Nikam, civil surgeon from Amravati said that the weekly positivity rate of the district is around 1.5%. “We are conducting tests in earlier identified hotspots areas. But we are getting only 2-3 positive cases daily. Last week, on two consecutive days, we got zero cases. So, unlike the peak of the pandemic, we don’t have the scopes to do robust testing.”

The current weekly positivity rate of the state stands at 1%. “We have been keeping an eye on all the districts but, we haven’t witnessed any spike in cases. It is unacceptable to compare the current testing data with May when the pandemic was at its peak,” said a public health officer.

Dr Pradeep Vyas, additional chief secretary, did not respond to multiple calls.

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