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Low testing and high positivity: Bihar is the next big concern

Bihar has carried out only 3.3 lakh tests so far – and taking this low base into account, the positivity rate is among the highest in the country.

Written by Karishma Mehrotra | New Delhi | Updated: July 17, 2020 2:55:17 pm
Bihar coronavirus, bihar aiims patna, bihar coronavirus testing , bihar coronavirus deaths, bihar coronavirus lockdown, nitish kumar, bihar isolation wards, aiims patna coronavirus hospital, bihar coronavirus latest news The usually bustling Chiraiyatand flyover in Patna lies deserted during the lockdown on Thursday. (PTI)

The positivity rate for novel coronavirus infection in Bihar is 5.7 per cent – lower than the national average of 7.6 per cent; however, adjusted for the low testing base, the picture changes dramatically.

Bihar has carried out only 3.3 lakh tests so far – and taking this low base into account, the positivity rate is among the highest in the country.

Only Delhi, Maharashtra, and Gujarat had higher positivity rates than Bihar when they reached 3.3 lakh tested samples, according to data in state government bulletins.

Bihar went into complete lockdown from Thursday until July 31.

The majority of Indian states and Union Territories had a positivity rate of less than 4 per cent when they reached the 3 lakh testing mark – Madhya Pradesh had 3.9 per cent, Odisha 3.7 per cent, Tamil Nadu 3.4, West Bengal 3.2, Uttar Pradesh 2.7, Rajasthan 2.2, Kerala 2.16, Jammu and Kashmir 2.0, Punjab 1.8, Assam 1.8, Andhra Pradesh 0.84 per cent.

Assam, J&K, Punjab, MP, UP, Andhra, and Rajasthan are among the states with a positivity rate of less than 4 per cent currently, but they have tested more samples than Bihar and Haryana.

“The positivity rate in 14 districts around Patna has increased from 4 per cent to 15 per cent over the past two weeks. That is worrying,” Dr S K Shahi, who oversees Covid-19 testing at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences (IGIMS) in the state capital, said. “The positivity rate in Patna is the worst – 8 to 10 per cent,” Dr Shahi said.

Bihar has the country’s lowest testing rate – just 316 per lakh population. All other states have a rate of over 550 tests per lakh, and the figure for the country overall is 979 samples per lakh.

While Haryana too has a combination of low testing (3.9 lakh total tests) and high positivity (5.8 per cent), its population-adjusted testing figure is 1,500 per lakh.

Seventy-five individuals in the Bihar BJP office tested positive for Covid-19 this week. About a fortnight ago, a wedding in the state became a super-spreader event with more than 100 people testing positive for the virus.

Only 23 per cent of Covid-19 deaths in Bihar have occurred in its the top three worst hit districts, indicating a wide geographical spread, which makes targeted intervention tough. In all states barring two (Bihar and Uttar Pradesh) across the country, at least half of the Covid-19 death toll has come from the top three districts.

There is increasing concern about Bihar as ‘non-hotspot’ states are beginning to overtake the early outbreak states. On July 13, for the first time, non-hotspot states had more daily new active cases than the ‘hotspot’ states of Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Tamil Nadu. These four states had almost 70 per cent of India’s active caseload a month ago; they now have a little over 61 per cent.

States with a combination of high positivity rate and low testing base went on to become major hotspots: Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, and Telangana.

Andhra and J&K too, had high positivity rates with low testing bases in early April—almost 6 per cent at 7,000 tests and almost 7 per cent with 4,000 tests respectively. But both managed to bring their positivity rates down with increased testing. Bihar’s rate, on the other hand, has steadily increased as the state ramped up testing. “Of 22,000 samples from the past two weeks, around 80 per cent have symptoms. In Patna, around 90 per cent do. Our asymptomatic cases are usually between 15 to 30 years old, while our symptomatic cases are on average 50 years old,” Dr Shahi said.

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