The Union Health Ministry Tuesday told health departments in the country to increase testing, highlighting a decline in several states and Union Territories over the last few days.
Additional Health Secretary Arti Ahuja, without naming any state or Union Territory, reiterated to health secretaries the fresh ICMR guidelines issued after the emergence of the highly-transmissible Omicron variant.
The new ICMR guidelines had stated that all those who are symptomatic and at-risk contacts of laboratory-confirmed cases must be tested — while there was no need to do so for asymptomatic people.
The Health Ministry nudge is not without reason. India is currently testing barely 60 per cent of what it was doing in the first week of June last year, when a roughly similar number of new Covid-19 cases were being discovered as now. On Monday, the country conducted 16.49 lakh tests.
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What’s more, in several crucial states, the testing numbers are showing a decline over the last few days, which prompted the Health Ministry to write the letter on Tuesday.
“As you are aware, the Omicron which has been designated… as variant of concern is currently spreading across the country….Testing remains a key and crucial component of the framework. However, it is seen from the data available on the ICMR portal that testing has declined in many states and union territories,” Ahuja wrote.
The key states include Delhi, Maharashtra, Bihar, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal. In all these states, the decline has continued for four or five days now, longer than the usual dip seen over the weekends. In many of these states, the daily case count is also going down, or seems to have stabilised.
At the national level, however, the test numbers are rising steadily. On Monday, for example, the seven-day average of tests touched 17.5 lakh, the highest since the end of August last year. On individual days, the testing numbers have crossed 20 lakh as well. During the second wave, however, this number was more than 30 lakh for about a week towards the end of May and start of June.
As a result, the positivity rate at the national level is way higher than that time, and rising. The current weekly positivity rate is 14.22 per cent, more than double of what it was in the first week of June. However, the crucial difference between then and now is that India’s case count is currently on the upward trajectory, while in June it was going down after reaching the peak.
The current positivity rate is still way below the peak it had seen during the height of the second wave in the first week of May. At that time, the positivity rate had been hovering around 22 per cent.
The sudden arrest in the surge of cases in some states could be because of the reduction in the number of samples being tested. This could also be having an impact on the national case count, whose trajectory has flattened in the last few days. In fact, the 2.38 lakh cases detected on Monday was the lowest in the last six days. However, this could only be a temporary phenomenon, and the case count is likely to rise further in the coming days.
Since the trends in testing are not following a uniform pattern across states, the daily count of cases at the national level is not conveying a very accurate picture of how the infection is spreading during the third wave. The seeming slowdown being witnessed could only be because of the change in testing strategy in several states, and may not be reflective of how quickly the infection is spreading. The fact that the positivity rate is maintaining an upward trend supports the suggestion that, at the national level at least, the peak might still be some distance away.
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