By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 28 Sep: Twelve days ago, Uttarakhand was conducting more than 10,000 Corona tests every day. This figure is not inclusive of repeat testing of patients already tested positive. However, the state is now conducting below 10,000 tests continuously for the past 9 days or so, raising questions whether this is a deliberate move or strategy of the state administration. Looking at the reduction in the number of tests conducted for Corona in the past ten days or so, doubts are be raised that there is a conscious decision to conduct smaller number of tests!
There are other reasons which create doubt. Sources say that several private pathology testing laboratories have stopped conducting rapid antigen tests for Covid-19 over the past seven days or so. Sources say there is some unofficial pressure on the private laboratories to not conduct rapid antigen tests for Corona. Not just this, the district administration has also withdrawn permission granted to some private labs for Corona testing. Although, the district administration has denied this, the figures do tell a story. Speaking to this correspondent, some pathologists claimed that they were asked not to conduct the rapid antigen testing. This probably explains the gap of 10 percent in respect of positive test results between the government and private laboratories has now narrowed down to just 5 percent in Dehradun. No rapid antigen test, no positive results! It may be pertinent to point out here that the usual ratio between the RT-PCR tests and the rapid antigen tests in most states in India is 1:3, which means three rapid antigen tests conducted for every RT-PCR test. However, as the private testing laboratories have been actively discouraged not to conduct rapid antigen tests, the total testing itself has come down in the state. Sources claim that the state administration is clearly not happy with the higher positive rates turned out by the private labs as compared to the government labs, even though there could easily be very genuine reasons behind the same. These reasons were asserted by the Uttarakhand Branch of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) in its press conference last week.
The last time more than 10,000 tests were conducted in the state was on 21 September. The maximum tests per day conducted by the state so far were 16,453 on 19 September. In contrast, only 6508 samples were sent for Corona testing on Sunday, (27 September). It is not as if the infection rate, which would have naturally led to lower rate of testing. The infection rate in the state as on Sunday (27 September) was 7.16 percent, which means out of every hundred tests, 7.16 persons tested Corona positive. The total number of positive test reports on Sunday in the state was 764. In the five days between 20 and 24 September, the Government labs conducted 18 percent fewer tests as compared to the previous five days, while the private labs too conducted 17 percent fewer tests as compared to the previous five days.
It would be relevant to point out here that 4 districts, namely Dehradun, Haridwar, Udham Singh Nagar and Nainital have about 77 percent of the total cases in the state, but have done only 55 percent of the total tests, despite the fact that it is in these districts that the maximum number of private laboratories are operating. Clearly, the hill districts are testing more per million as compared to these four districts of the plains, while these districts need to conduct much more tests. For example, during the week that ended on 24 September, 12,235 persons per lakh of population were tested in district Uttarkashi, 10,300 in Champawat, but only 4757 in US Nagar, 4,555 in Dehradun, 4,390 in Haridwar and 4,342 in Nainital. Of course, among the hill districts, Pauri Garhwal is also lagging behind with just 4,566 tests per lakh of population. This is despite the fact that the state, on average, is reporting over 7 percent infection rate, which is indicative of the need to test more. So questions can be raised whether the state is now intending to under-report the spread of the pandemic! The answer would depend on whether there is a conscious decision to test less!
By Arun Pratap Singh