Coronavirus Outbreak: Is India’s testing capacity enough for COVID 19 cases? Here’s what we know

Coronavirus or COVID-19 has been the cause of concern for the world. Now, in India, with the number of cases up to 126, here’s a factual look at the testing capacity the country has. Check it out.
India,Coronavirus,Coronavirus outbreak,COVID 19Coronavirus Outbreak: Is India’s testing capacity enough for COVID 19 cases? Here’s what we know
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A global pandemic, Coronavirus has been a cause of concern for every country where it has spread to. Began in the city of Wuhan, China, the disease has managed to spread across the world to countries like South Korea, Italy, the US, India and more. Now, in India, as per update on March 16, 2020, the positive cases of COVID-19 have been recorded at 126 and each hour, the number is rapidly increasing. While the government has issued guidelines for testing as well as safety rules, people of India continue to get alarmed by the rising number of cases of Coronavirus. 

On Tuesday, the death toll in the country rose to 3 with a 64-year-old person passing away in Mumbai. Amidst this, the government has been claiming that the testing capacity in India for COVID-19 is enough. But, experts have been feeling otherwise. The Ministry of India has denied the spread of Coronavirus to communities and has mentioned time and again that there have been no signs of community transmission of COVID-19. However, experts feel that the narrow testing of cases is the reason behind his inference. 

As of March 13, 2020, the number of people tested in India was recorded at 6,500 samples from 5,900 individuals. This was stated in a press release by the Indian Council of Medical Research.(ICMR). However, they also mentioned that only government-run 65 centres are currently undertaking the testing of COVID-19 and no private testing labs have been involved till now. The government also assured that the testing capacity is enough for suspected cases of Coronavirus. The statement also read, “The secondary test for reconfirmation of the virus which was earlier conducted only at the National Institute of Virology has also been expanded to 31 labs.”

Coronavirus Testing Protocol

While the world may have different protocols in place for COVID-19 cases, in India, as per the government rules, only people who have travelled to the Coronavirus affected countries or have come in contact with individuals who have had travel history from the affected nations, can get tested by the government run centres. Also, those who have travelled to only affected countries must show symptoms like cough, fever and more to get themselves tested. Several other international travellers who landed in India complained that they were unable to get themselves tested for COVID-19 as they didn’t match the parameter. This basically leaves everyone who has travelled to the affected nation but doesn’t show symptoms hanging as they cannot get themselves tested.

The Ministry has mentioned that these protocols have been put in place to so as to avoid a state of panic among people. Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the health ministry said, “It is very important we should not create panic, only people who need to be tested should be tested,” 

India’s testing protocols VS other countries

While India’s testing protocols have been limiting the testing of Coronavirus to those who meet the criteria, several other nations have opted for mass testing to keep the number of COVID-19 cases in check. In South Korea, drive-in testing centres have been put in place where anyone who feels they have COVID-19 symptoms can get themselves tested for it. Till now, South Korea has tested over 140,000 people and has administered over 10, 000 tests a day. In Italy, the testing is 1005 cases per million of population while in the UK, the number of Coronavirus tests per million was recorded at 438. In India, the numbers are alarmingly low as the COVID-19 test per million people is just 5. Other countries like the US also has low testing numbers as their governments had been following the wait and watch strategy. However, recently, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency owing to Coronavirus and has put in place protocols for testing. 

But, mass testing in certain countries created panic and a shortage of COVID-19 tests. Recently, the Vox reported a shortage of tests for Coronavirus in Australia and for it, their government had to step in and put protocols in place. 

Is India’s COVID-19 testing capacity enough for all suspected patients?

As per the health officials, the testing capacity in India is enough for Coronavirus suspects. The same health officials claimed in a press conference on Thursday that the need to involve private labs is no longer there as government run centres are enough to test for COVID-19. Gangakhedkar of the Indian Council of Medical Research said, “The National Institute of Virology can test 2,500 samples in a day. We are taking a graded approach. First, we started centres wherever international airports are there. Second, we quickly ramped it up to 52 centres because we realised transportation may take some time and there could be delays.”

He even revealed why the government is ‘going slow’ in testing. He said that we need to have quality assurance procedures and hence, the tests are being slowly as of now. Lav Agarwal, the health ministry’s joint secretary, said that they have enough number of COVID-19 testing kits. He said, “We already have one lakh testing kits. Additional kits have already been ordered. They are in procurement.” 

Experts concerns on limited testing of Coronavirus

Several experts have raised concerns on testing COVID-19. Many have mentioned that India may not be able to determine the community transmission of COVID-19 as the testing is on the lower side. As per T Sundararaman, the former director of the National Health Systems Resource Centre, the nations that have less number of testing of suspects, they have lesser number of detected cases but very high mortality rates as they are unable to determine the disease at the correct time due to delayed testing. He said, “Nations that have been unable to institute such mass testing detect less cases – and therefore have apparently higher case mortality rates – and are unable to detect or curb community transmission.”

On March 13, the ICMR announced that it will test 1000 samples of people with influenza or pneumonia-like illness symptoms to keep a check on community transmission. ICMR scientist Nivedita Gupta told the Indian Express said, “If we find a positive case anywhere then the strategies would be completely different.” Amidst all of it, the number of cases in the country have gone up to 126 and the death toll is 3. Other nations that followed the practice of limited testing and didn't set up mass testing centres had extremely high mortality rates. One of the examples of such nations is Italy where the death toll has crossed 2000. It still remains unclear as to why the testing is low, but the government continues to reassure people that they are doing everything to manage the situation. 

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