Having more than trebled daily testing over a month, India is now gearing up to ramp it to 2 lakh a day. While the daily average has crossed 1 lakh tests, private laboratories, who fought long and hard to be allowed to test, have contributed to less than 20% of the total samples tested daily. This despite the fact that they make up almost 30% of the laboratory infrastructure.
An analysis of testing records between April 16 and May 23 reveals that while tests in government labs went up by almost 270 per cent from 23,932 to 88,947, for private labs the figure rose more sharply, just under four times, from 4408 to 21450.
But as share of tests, on April 16, private labs did a little over 15 per cent of the total 28,340 tests done that day. And on May 23, that figure was just 19% of the total 1,10,397 tests.
Incidentally, the 178 private laboratories in the country make up 29 per cent of the total testing infrastructure. There are 431 government laboratories where Covid testing is currently taking place.
“India is currently testing about 1.1 lakh samples in a day and has the capacity to test about 1.4 lakh samples per day, which is being raised to 2 lakh samples per day…Most states have been working with National Tuberculosis Elimination Program (NTEP) to deploy TrueNAT machines for COVID-19 testing…No state has significant backlog of samples to be tested. More labs are being set up and additional machines are deployed in states like UP, Bihar, West Bengal as well as rest of the country to meet the possible higher requirement,” the government said in a statement Monday.
The decision to allow private labs to test was taken even as ICMR DG and Secretary, Department of health research Dr Balram Bhargava set the cat among the pigeons with his “appeal” to private labs to test for free. The matter went to the court which hobbled private testing until it was finally resolved by allowing them to charge. A maximum charge of Rs 4500 per test was fixed by the government.
Asked about the low share, Arjun Dang, CEO, Dr Dang’s Lab, told The Indian Express: “I think all private labs are stretching their limits to do Covid collections. Private labs have a major limitation of specialised and very expensive equipment, trained manpower and space. Comparing private labs and Government labs is comparing apples and oranges. To sustain the business, routine lab work is essential, which now is far below normal (only about 18-20%). Although we practise the highest levels of infection-control protocols, there is still a lot of stigma associated with Covid testing so we are trying to do home collections and drive-throughs. This itself requires investments in AC transport vehicles, manpower and PPEs which are absorbed by the lab.”
Many private lab owners red-flagged high cost of machines, apprehension over losing clientele because of the Covid stigma and low volumes because of the cost which they say does not cover their expenses.
Meanwhile Covid cases in the country once again touched a daily high at 6,977 on Monday. The total number now stands at 1,38,845 and deaths at 4021. The recovery rate is 41.57%.
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