The closure of two key government testing labs for Covid-19 in Bengaluru for a week, after personnel at both labs tested positive for the virus, has resulted in a considerable backlog of samples waiting to be tested in the last few days, even as case counts hit a new high in Karnataka on Saturday.
A record 918 Covid-19 cases were reported in Karnataka — now the highest in a single day — and Bengaluru alone saw 596 cases being reported.
Since June 1, there have been 2,183 cases and 84 deaths in Bengaluru, compared to 358 cases and 10 deaths from March 8 to May 31. As of Saturday, the city has 1,913 official active cases.
The sharp spike in cases resulted in Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa calling an emergency meeting on Saturday evening in which a decision was taken to impose a complete lockdown in Bengaluru on Sundays from July 5, and to impose a curfew from 8 pm to 5 am. The decision was announced by state Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai.
It was also decided to have a centralised bed allocation system to speed up hospitalisation of Covid-19 patients. Yediyurappa told the officials to publish details of nodal officers working for Covid Management.
Crucially, the number of samples awaiting testing in Bengaluru hit 11,640 on Friday — a large backlog given that pendency rarely crossed the 4,000-mark when all labs were functional.
A laboratory at the Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute, which is part of the ICMR’s Virus Research and Diagnostic Laboratory network, and a laboratory at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences in Bengaluru together handled about 2,000 samples each day. They were shut for a week on Monday.
Despite the overall testing numbers being in the range 14,733 RT-PCR tests on Friday and 14,078 tests on Thursday, the number of samples pending rose sharply from 3,038 to 7,469 on Thursday and 11,640 on Friday, according to government data.
“Two major labs have been closed because their staff got infected. Around 2,000 to 2,500 samples used to be tested between BMCRI and Nimhans… From tomorrow, they should be back online for carrying out tests,” said Dr C N Manjunath, the state nodal officer for testing.
The BMCRI, Nimhans and ICMR-NIV labs have handled the bulk of Covid-19 testing in Karnataka with each testing 1,000 samples each day — more at the peak of testing four weeks ago.
There are 76 labs in Karnataka, including 44 in the government sector and 32 in the private sector.
The last time a large number of samples piled up in the state for Covid-19 was at end of May when the ICMR-NIV, BMCRI and Nimhans labs went offline to re-calibrate machines.
A backlog of cases built up in districts bordering Maharashtra such as Kalaburagi, Vijayapura and Bidar as a large number of returnees from Maharashtra were tested.
Some of the north Karnataka districts also send samples to Bengaluru due to testing capacities being limited in some of the districts.
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