Thyrocare says some districts trying to control COVID testing
Amid a steady decline in COVID-19 cases – Delhi has started showing an upward trend though – across the country, speculation has mounted about the number of tests being reported. There have been reports of government authorities in some districts trying to “control” the process of testing in order to show a “better scorecard”.
India for the past few months has been using a globally accepted test — PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, which isolates genetic material from a swab sample. It’s regarded as the gold standard of testing.
New cases crossed the 5,000-mark for the first time in Delhi on Wednesday. The city recorded 5,674 cases between Monday and Tuesday, taking Delhi’s overall case tally to 3,70,014.
The Health Ministry has stated that India is among the “topmost” countries in testing. Since October 1, the country has tested between 8.5 lakh and 14.7 lakh samples every day. Cumulative tests since the pandemic began crossed 10.5 crore on Wednesday.
“Even though testing has been opened up, the government is still controlling private centre testing at district levels. It is happening more today than before. We have been told not to pick up samples in many districts in different states, claiming that we are reporting false positives,” A Velumani, founder and managing director of Thyrocare Technologies, told The Indian Express.
Thyrocare is among the top five diagnostic centres in the country, and has been collecting samples in several high Covid-19 caseload states, including Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, West Bengal, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, and Uttarakhand.
“Around 2,000 of our samples are reduced every day across at least 100 districts because of this, and one of the motivations is obviously they don’t really want to show a higher positivity scorecard. They want to show a better scorecard,” Velumani said.
Thyrocare has been facing this problem in 30 per cent of the districts it collects samples from, Velumani said. He declined to name the districts where lab staff were allegedly being told verbally to limit testing.
Ameera Shah, managing director of diagnostic chain Metropolis Healthcare, underlined the crucial importance of testing at this stage of the pandemic in India. “The more we increase testing and the more that we take care of those who are Covid-19 positive and do rigorous contact tracing, the better our chances of avoiding a possible next spike that is expected to come in the October to December quarter,” Shah said.
A senior executive of another large diagnostic firm confirmed they too were facing issues similar to the ones flagged by Velumani.
This executive, who declined to be identified, said certain parts of Maharashtra and Gujarat had been engaging in such practices in the recent past.
“We continue to see this happening. We’re not seeing this evenly spread everywhere, but in certain places. It’s random and arbitrary, and happening across different districts across the country,” the executive told The Indian Express. As a result, the firm has been unable to ramp up testing to its full capacity, the executive said.
“Basically, states have their own pressures for not wanting to show positive cases. Because the pressure is trickled down, at the district level, we are finding that people are telling us to do a maximum total number of tests per day,” the executive added.
A top executive of another major diagnostic firm, however, told The Indian Express that issues such as the one flagged by Velumani had been more common “a few months ago”.
The executive of the first firm said some district authorities had also instructed them to run the results by the authorities before releasing the final reports to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
“They have said that if they tell us to not release it (the reports), then we shouldn’t release it… This is possibly affecting the number of tests being done and, possibly, the number of positives coming out,” this executive said.
Asked for a comment, ICMR’s media coordinator told The Indian Express: “All the issues highlighted are within the purview of the respective state governments. ICMR is a research body, which has played a pivotal role in guiding states on testing protocols and modalities… ICMR does not have any regulatory authority. All states are free to decide on the levels of engagement with the private and public sector.”