India Coronavirus (Covid-19) Cases: Mumbai, the city that accounts for 20 per cent of all novel Coronavirus infections in India, has come under scrutiny for its stagnating testing numbers. The city has been testing around 4,000 samples every day and this number has not increased for over a month now. This, despite the fact that it has the capacity to carry out about 10,000 tests per day, and the number of positive cases that it discovers each day has been on a steady rise.
The debate on testing has been going on since the outbreak started in India in the beginning of March. The conventional wisdom is that the more tests are carried out, the more are the chances of finding positive patients. That is because a majority of the infected people, more than 80 per cent, are expected to be asymptomatic, meaning they do not show any signs of the COVID-19 disease they are carrying. But they are capable of transmitting the virus to others. Only if they are tested, can they be identified and isolated. That is why health experts have been stressing on the need to ramp up testing infrastructure, and test more and more people, even asymptomatic ones.
The testing numbers have steadily improved in the last two months. India is now testing more than one lakh samples every day. Almost every state, including Maharashtra, has significantly increased its testing numbers during this time. Mumbai, however, has bucked this trend in the last one month at least.
Mumbai has been insisting that it is following a very successful targeted testing strategy, wherein it is prioritising testing of people who are more likely to be have been infected, the primary contacts of already infected people, those who are showing symptoms, and frontline workers like healthcare staff. As a result, Mumbai has been finding at least one positive case for every three tests conducted, while nationally this figure is one in twenty. Most other states also have a positivity rate similar to the national number. Mumbai has been arguing that it has been showing a much better utilisation of limited testing infrastructure.
One state that has surprisingly low testing numbers is Kerala. The state, which had reported the first three cases of novel Coronavirus infection in India, way back in the last week of January, has been hailed internationally as a model in containing the spread of the disease. But its record on testing has not been very great. Till June 4, it had done less than one lakh tests. States like Assam, Haryana and Odisha have carried out many more tests than that. Nearly half of Kerala’s tests have come in the last three weeks when a second wave of infections started in the state following the relaxation in travel restrictions in the first week of May. Around May 10, when the state had almost contained the spread of the virus, and new cases were being reported either in single digits every day, or sometimes not at all, Kerala had done just 40,000 tests.
However, the success of Kerala lay in very effective containment and isolation strategy that had ensured that those found positive did not spread the disease to many people. The qualitatively better public health system, better trained healthcare staff, and the experience in dealing with similar, though much smaller, epidemic like the Nipah virus in the past, made sure that Kerala was able to deliver much better results. The picture has changed considerably since then, as Kerala has been reporting large number of cases in the last three weeks, mainly amongst people returning to the state from other places.
Top ten states with maximum caseload
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Amongst other states, Telangana has also been criticised for its low testing numbers. The state has one of the poorest records on testing, and is the only state that does not release its testing numbers. The Indian Express had reported last month, that as on May 14, Telangana had tested less than 23,000 samples, when even Chhattisgarh, which had 25 times less number of cases than Telangana, had tested close to 30,000 samples.
Telangana had been reporting very slow growth in its positive cases till the middle of May, and that was attributed mainly to the lack of adequate testing. The numbers have shot up after that. In the last three weeks, the state has been reporting more than 80 cases every day, sometimes even more than 100. It had 3,156 positive cases on Thursday. The state has still been making its testing numbers public. (Don’t miss our explainer on why the Telangana HC compared Covid-19 to a Trojan horse)
On Thursday, the number of positive cases in the country rose by almost 10,000. There are more than 2,25 lakh confirmed cases in the country now, out of which close to 1.1 lakh people have recovered from the disease. More than 6,300 infected people have died in the country so far.
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