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Second wave in mind, daily tests up from 4,300 to 75,000 since April 1

While rebutting the World Health Organisation’s “test, test, test” prescription with its “isolation, isolation, isolation” formula, as articulated by Secretary, Health Research, Dr Balram Bhargava on March 22, India has quietly upped its testing game manifold.

Written by Abantika Ghosh | New Delhi |
Updated: May 3, 2020 12:46:43 pm
Second wave in mind, daily tests up from 4,300 to 75,000 since April 1 With 2,411 cases being reported in the last 24 hours – the highest single-day jump so far – the total number of cases touched 37,776 on Saturday. (Express File Photo by Prashant Nadkar)

ON APRIL 1, 4,346 samples were tested for novel coronavirus. In the last one month, daily testing has been ramped up, touching about 75,000 samples on May 1.

Between the second half of January — when India first started testing foreign travellers (the first case was reported on January 30) — and April 1, only 42,788 samples had been tested. The total number of tests crossed a million on Saturday (1,043,000) — 71,093 samples were tested in the last 24 hours, till about 9 pm.

While rebutting the World Health Organisation’s “test, test, test” prescription with its “isolation, isolation, isolation” formula, as articulated by Secretary, Health Research, Dr Balram Bhargava on March 22, India has quietly upped its testing game manifold.

It began with gradual expansion of the testing base in phases, to eventually include all those with flu-like symptoms, regardless of travel or contact history, in the hotspots. In addition, manpower was diverted from other programmes, and equipped laboratories in the government sector, and later in the private sector too, were roped in to conduct tests. Currently, there are 419 laboratories, including about 100 in the private sector, which conduct the tests – there were just about 20-30 in March.

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There is a reason for the push. According to NITI Aayog’s presentation shared with states last week, if the lockdown was lifted as scheduled on May 3, the number of cases was estimated to touch 65,000 by May 15, and 2.7 crore by August 15.

With about 4 per cent of samples testing positive as per the current trends, just to identify that many cases would require testing on a massive scale.

“These numbers are being revised every day. Now, new numbers are being calculated based on the new restrictions and relaxations. But yes, we need to be prepared to test more and more,” said a source.

With 2,411 cases being reported in the last 24 hours – the highest single-day jump so far – the total number of cases touched 37,776 on Saturday. The death toll has gone up to 1,233, including 66 deaths in the last 24 hours, while 10,017 have recovered so far.

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“We went very systematically with a clear goal in mind, we should be looking at 1 lakh tests daily. We expanded the testing base with timely revisions in testing strategy to eventually include all patients of influenza like illness (ILI),” said C K Mishra, Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, who chairs the empowered group on availability of hospital beds, testing facilities etc.

“We roped in not just the ICMR laboratories but also those under the department of science and technology and the department of biotechnology – basically anybody with ability to do molecular tests. We procured kits in large numbers, both from domestic and foreign companies, and have also told states to procure whatever they can. For example, a domestic supplier we contacted yesterday told us that he could not give us the kits because he is supplying them to Tamil Nadu,” he said.

Fourteen institutions, including AIIMS-New Delhi, PGIMER-Chandigarh, CMC-Vellore, JIPMER-Puducherry, SGPGIMS-Lucknow, have been picked as “mentors”, to guide the medical colleges/ labs/ hospitals in carrying out tests. Another 15 institutions are working as depots for supplying testing kits/ material to these labs.

Till date, 45 real-time PCR kits, including those manufactured by 20 domestic companies, have been validated by ICMR centres. Foreign missions were roped in for procurement of testing kits.

A comparison of the current daily testing figures around the world shows that it is about 1,50,000 in the US, 1,20,000 in the UK (which just started mass testing), 50,000 in Germany and 15,000 in South Korea.

While critics have pointed out that the testing figures don’t seem very impressive vis-a-vis India’s estimated 130 crore population, the government has maintained that a little less than half the districts in the country remain free of COVID-19.

Read| Testing matters

Mishra said there are enough kits for the RT-PCR tests, with the RNA extraction kits, which had limited stock earlier, starting to roll in, and several domestic manufacturers of the viral transport medium kits also diversifying into the RNA extraction kits. The first machine from Roche, which can test 1,300-1,400 samples daily is also up and running.

With these, the government is now targeting 1 lakh-1.20 lakh tests per day. Scientists from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) had earlier estimated that this target could be reached by shifting to a 24-hour working model and using machines available with various organisations such as NACO and the National TB Elimination programme.

Meanwhile, private laboratories are yet to become major players – of the 74,600 tests done on May 1, only about 11,000 samples were tested in private laboratories.

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