Maharashtra, which has emerged as the ground zero of the coronavirus outbreak in the country, has become the first state where the number of samples tested at private facilities has overtaken those at government labs — by nearly double on Tuesday alone.
With 5,221 cases so far, the highest in any state, Health officials are banking on largescale testing as a key tool to isolate and contain the spread. And, according to official figures available Wednesday morning, Maharashtra has tested 82,304 samples so far, of which 41,794 — 50.78% — were done in the private labs.
The figures show that on Tuesday, private labs tested 4,211 samples while government facilities totalled 2,255 in the state.
There are two main reasons for the surge in private testing, a government official said. “Physicians have been given wider discretion, they can prescribe lab tests for asymptomatic people too. Also, in the case of Maharashtra, a few labs stopped testing temporarily after the Supreme Court ordered free testing for all. They have now resumed in full capacity,” he said.
The official was referring to the court modifying its order and clarifying that free tests are only for Ayushman Bharat beneficiaries and economically weaker sections. The court ruled that the Centre’s price cap of Rs 4,500 per test would continue for others.
“Private labs, in my opinion, have twice the capacity as that of government labs as we operate 24×7. Also, the outbreak in Dharavi is contributing to big numbers coming to private labs,” Arokiaswamy Velumani, CEO of Mumbai-based Thyrocare, said. Dharavi has recorded over 180 cases.
Officials also pointed out that Maharashtra has the largest private lab network in the country, with 20 of a total of 87 operational in the state.
In Delhi, meanwhile, only 25% (6,734) of the total 26,627 samples tested are from private labs, up from 19% two weeks ago.
Official figures show that the rise in testing at private labs in Maharashtra has also resulted in an increase in positive cases being reported. In the last one week, the average total positive cases in the state stood at 5.30% of total samples tested as against 4.33% the previous week.
In government labs, this number stood at 6.46% for the last week and 5.47% the week before; in private labs, it was 4.085% and 2.97%, respectively.
Mapping the shift, the figures show that private labs tested an average of 3,133 samples per day over the last seven days, compared to 2,175 in government labs. An identical trend was reported the previous week, when private labs tested an average of 2,029 samples per day, as against 1,898 in government facilities.
Official figures from across the month present a stark contrast, and show the pace at which testing at private labs have gained ground in Maharashtra.
On April 9, government labs tested 12,984 samples, 5,091 more than private labs. The trend held over the next week, with government labs testing 25,283 samples, 5,424 more than private labs. The trend started shifting subsequently in the weeks that followed, with two days recording the maximum gap between the two.
On April 19, 4,241 samples were tested in private labs, compared to 2,389 in government facilities. Tuesday marked the next big jump.
In Delhi, similarly, there has been an increase in testing in the 10 approved private labs after the apex court order on April 14.
In the last one week, private labs tested 551 samples per day, on average, against 926 in government facilities — but on April 17 alone, private labs tested as many 2,048 samples. In the previous week, private labs in Delhi tested 152 samples per day, on average, compared to 882 in government labs.
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