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Mumbai: Private labs increase Covid-19 testing capacity as demand surges

The city has seen the number of daily tests rise three-and-a-half times in a month to over 55,000 a day at present.

By: Express News Service | Mumbai |
Updated: April 15, 2021 1:44:06 am
Antigen testing underway at TMC school Thane. (Express photo by Deepak Joshi)

Private laboratories are scaling up their capacity as demand for Covid-19 tests surges across Mumbai.

The city has seen the number of daily tests rise three-and-a-half times in a month to over 55,000 a day at present. Reports are taking three to four days to come, even as labs hire more technicians and train them in phlebotomy to ramp up swab collection and tests.

Mumbai on Wednesday reported 9,931 infections, taking its active caseload to 86,635.

Anand K, CEO of SRL Diagnostics, said that compared to February, testing has tripled in his lab. Most samples are from people who need to travel and those with symptoms. “The focus is currently on hiring more professionals and phlebotomists and training them in the process of sample collection and testing to manage the growing demand,” he added. The lab is also installing more equipment.

Thyrocare is conducting 18,000 to 20,000 tests in Mumbai region, up from 3,000 to 4,000 daily tests since early February. Sachin Salvi, vice-president of Thyrocare, said they have appointed a franchise to supply technicians for home collection of samples and have two months buffer stock for testing kits. “We have no shortage of technicians. We are planing to further increase daily tests,” he added.

Salvi said with huge burden of tests, they have prioritised BMC samples, followed by samples from hospitals, walk-in patients, corporates, people who have flights to catch and finally, home collection samples.

He added that they are using a 15-minute video clip to train technicians in swab collection. “After that the person has to accompany a trained technician for 25 swab collections. Only then are they allowed to collect swab on their own.”

Dr Sujata Baveja, a microbiologist in Sion hospital, said training a person in swab collection is easy. “One needs certain qualification for collecting blood sample, but swab collection is easy. All our resident doctors and health workers are trained in it. It does not require more than two to three days of training and observation,” she said.

Dr Anupa Dixit, chief scientist at Suburban Diagnostics, said they have doubled their staff in the last two months and increased qualitative PCR instruments to amplify and read the swab results.

The lab conducts 7,000 to 8,000 tests a day. It had to stop testing on April 10 and 11 to clear backlog. Lab officials said that while swab collection is fast, time required for testing samples takes long. The lab was taking 36 hours to produce swab results, now it has come down to 24 hours.

“Four things are important in Covid-19 testing – kits, manpower, consumables and instruments. We had to increase capacity of all to match the demand,” said Dixit.

BMC officials said they have limited RT-PCR testing to symptomatic patients in most dispensaries to reduce backlog in reporting time. “We are asking people who need RT-PCR negative report for flights or for office purposes to approach private labs. We are focussing on people who have symptoms,” said Dr Ajit Pampatwar, medical officer in K West ward covering Andheri West.

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