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Explained: Can increasing Rapid Antigen Tests control rural Covid-19 spread in Punjab?

The Punjab government recently launched 'Corona Mukt Pind Abhiyan' (Corona free villages campaign), during which Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT) will increase in villages. Can this help control the spread of Covid-19?

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba |
Updated: May 25, 2021 8:30:21 am
Covid-19 antigen testing at Civil Hospital in Mohali. (Express Photo: Jasbir Malhi)

Punjab has been seeing the highest Case Fatality Ratio (CFR) among all the states across the country. Rural Punjab has a CFR of 2.6 per cent due to witnessing three times more deaths compared to urban areas. This has led to the launch of ‘Corona Mukt Pind Abhiyan’ (Corona free villages campaign) recently where the government has increased Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT) in the villages. The Indian Express explains if RAT can help control the spread of Covid in Punjab villages.

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With an increase in RAT, will number of RT-PCR tests go down?

No. Health officials said that earlier Punjab’s RT-PCR testing was around 90 per cent in a day, while 10 per cent RAT tests were being done. Punjab has the capacity of conducting over 35,000 RT-PCRs daily, but with increasing RAT testing now, the state is conducting over 75,000 tests daily. As on May 21 and May 20, Punjab conducted 76,321 and 79,167 tests, respectively while a month back 50,000 to 60,000 tests (RAT and RT-PCR) were being conducted daily. The number shows that RAT testing has increased the total testing significantly.

Why is more focus on RAT in villages?

According to the 2011 census, 62.51 per cent of the population of Punjab resides in the rural areas and 37.49 per cent in urban areas. Earlier, testing from rural areas was not even 40 per cent of the total testing being conducted through RT-PCR. Now, when the rural belt has become a hotbed of Covid deaths in the state, the government has launched a massive sampling drive in the village under RAT because it will give instant results.

“In the villages, people are not coming for testing and now Punjab government has launched Corona Mukt Pind Abhiyan under which the health workers as well as the workers under the state Rural and Panachyat Development Department will visit in every village to conduct RAT and to educate people for testing purpose in case they notice any Covid like symptoms,” said Principal Secretary, Health, Husan Lal, adding that already they are in contact with the village panchayats and motivating them to enhance the testing in their respective villages.

Can RAT stop the further spread of Covid in villages?

Government officials said that it will certainly help. Though RAT test has less accuracy in detecting Covid, but it can be useful as the results are quicker. “In RT-PCR, it takes 24 to 48 hours or even 72 hours for the result to come. While people who have given their sample, must isolate themselves immediately, majority continue to move freely till the report comes,” said a Senior Medical Officer, adding that in such a situation RAT comes handy which gives instant result and such people can be isolated immediately.

“In RAT, which we have increased manifold in the past couple of weeks, even if 5 to 6 per cent people of the total infected are detected positive on any given day then it will not only lessen the burden on RT-PCR labs but also help the department to start the treatment of these people early and save those previous hours of further spread to a large extent a large,” said Dr Rajesh Bhaskar, state Covid-19 Nodal Officer, adding that RAT will help in villages as so far infected people are taking medicines for regular viral fever or common flu instead coming forward for testing.

He further said: “In case a positive person is not detected under RAT, but he/she has some symptoms, then such person will also be isolated and treatment will be started till the time RT-PCR is conducted.”

Health officials said that under RT-PCR, still 20-30 per cent false negatives are coming. “RAT will help in detecting large number of Covid cases,” they said.

Why is Punjab’s CFR the highest in the country?

There are several reasons, but a major reason is people in rural areas getting tested late and reporting late to hospitals. Health officials also pointed to high prevalence of co-morbidities. A senior doctor said that the situation in the rural areas is more and less the same across the country, but in Punjab proper recording of the cases is being done.

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