Some states have been utilising testing laboratories, especially private labs, at a “sub-optimal” level and it is “strongly recommended” that laboratories should be free to test “any individual in accordance to ICMR guidelines”, the ICMR and the Health Ministry has stated in a letter to state governments and Union Territories.
The letter notes that states have made prescription from a government doctor mandatory to allow for a Covid-19 test, and observes that this may pose impediments and lead to delays.
The letter, signed by ICMR director-general Dr Balram Bhargava and Health Secretary Preeti Sudan states: “It has been observed that in some States/ UTs, the capacity utilization of the testing labs particularly the ones in private sector, is grossly sub-optimal. It is strongly advised that you should take all possible steps to ensure full capacity utilization of all COVID-19 testing laboratories in the State/ UT.”
Currently, Telangana and Maharashtra have the troubling duo of high positivity (both 18 per cent) and low tests per population (251 and 863 tests per 100,000 population, respectively). While Delhi has a higher testing ratio, its high positivity rate also inches it closer to the worrisome quadrant.
On the other side of the spectrum, Jammu and Kashmir has a low positivity rate of 2 per cent and a high testing ratio of 2,910 per 100,000 people.
Eleven states and UTs have a positivity rate below 5 per cent and a testing ratio below 1,000 per 100,000 population. Another 12 states have a similar positivity rate but a testing ratio between 1,000 and 2,000 per 100,000 people.
At 212 per 100,000 population, Bihar has some of the lowest testing rates. Telangana, UP, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and West Bengal all have below 600 tests per 100,000 population.
The letter states: “At this juncture, it is absolutely necessary to facilitate testing at the earliest by enabling all qualified medical practitioners, including private practitioners, to prescribe COVID test to any individual fulfilling the criteria for testing as per ICMR guidelines. In fact, ICMR strongly recommends that laboratories should be free to test any individual in accordance to the ICMR guidelines and State authorities must not restrict an individual from getting tested…”
The ministry and the ICMR encouraged states to set up camps and mobile vans in high-incidence areas to collect samples using rapid antigen tests, a new type of quick and cheaper test recently made available by the government agency.
The positivity rates of Telangana (18%), Maharashtra (18%), Delhi (16%), and Gujarat (8%) remain some of the highest in the country.
The ICMR has also added a new set of validated antibody and RT-PCR kits.
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