The Gujarat High Court has directed the state government to immediately procure maximum number of Covid-19 testing kits so that even the private laboratories would be able to carry out testing at government rates. The directive came after the government told the HC that it would play “gatekeeper” and decide when the private laboratories could start testing samples.
Questioning if the Gujarat government’s action was intended to “artificially” control the number of cases the state, the court observed, “The argument that more number of tests would lead to 70% of the population testing positive for Covid, thereby leading to fear psychosis should not be a ground to refuse or restrict the testing.”
The court asked the state authorities to keep a tab on all those who have tested positive through the testing centres to “enforce isolation at home (as far as possible)” or at a quarantine facility, and consider hospital admission only in case of symptoms so that the pressure on the healthcare system is reduced.
In a report submitted before the HC, the state government said, “…it has been observed that in many instances, unnecessary testing is being done by private laboratories and, therefore, the state has decided to do gatekeeping for private labs… at present, the state has enough capacity of lab testing and the said facility is being provided free of charge. Considering the same…, the state has decided to conduct testing in government labs so that patients can avoid unnecessary expenditure. The private laboratories shall be allowed to perform the tests, if and when, the capacity of government labs is exhausted.”
The HC also said that it had been brought to its notice that there was no dearth of testing kits but because of the mandatory prior approval of the state authorities, “the doctors are unable to test, even in instances where (they) can see that symptomatically the patient appears to have contracted the infection…” The court noted, “Eventually, it is the patient who suffers… For a Covid patient to wait for 3-5 days, sometimes would prove fatal.”
A common response from government officials have been that the state has only a capacity to test 3,000 samples every day and demanding more testing was not practically feasible. In the past week, as many as 5,000 to 6,100 samples were collected in a day.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Principal Health Secretary Jayanti Ravi said on Saturday, “It is not that we have increased our testing capacity significantly. What we are doing is pooled testing in areas where cases are low, where as per ICMR guidelines, 10 samples can be tested together (in a single kit, thus saving nine kits). We have put a regulatory mechanism that only those going for a surgical procedure can get themselves tested at private labs. This was due to the violation of ICMR regulations in some labs.”
“At present, government labs have sufficient capacity. We have also received an approval for GMERS Himmatnagar, although it has small capacity,” she added.
According to sources, some private labs in Ahmedabad have a capacity to test up to 700 samples a day. However, they are testing an average of 15-20 samples now, subject to authorisation from the GMERS superintendent, that too, for cases referred by private hospitals prior to a non-Covid medical procedure.
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