At just under four million tests so far – 2,708 per million population versus 51,168 in the US – India’s testing is quite low, but if the Delhi government has its way, this may fall even further. The government has called several private testing laboratories and told them that they need to pull back on their testing levels.
Instead of testing anyone who wants to get a test – provided they have a doctor’s prescription, as per the rules – the Delhi government has told these laboratories that they cannot be testing asymptomatic persons. How private laboratories are to comply with this is not clear since a laboratory’s job is to test, not to determine whether the patient needs to have a test.
It is not clear why the Delhi government should come up with such a stipulation since, at 10,772 tests per million population – versus 15,432 in Mumbai and 60,000 in New York state – Delhi’s testing is quite inadequate. More so, since every 100 new tests in the capital throw up 22 new infected persons – based on the data on tests submitted by the Delhi government to the Delhi high court – you would assume Delhi would want to ramp up testing dramatically. Indeed, the ‘positivity’ levels – new infections for every 100 new tests – for India have risen from 3.4 at the end of Lockdown 2 to 5.2 today, and from 6.9 to 10.4 for Delhi (based on the data in the capital’s daily medical bulletin). In any case, since these tests are not paid for by the government, the new rule makes little sense; all that restricted testing does is to ensure that lower infection levels are reported.
It also poses a problem for the capital’s citizens. If citizens are worried they may have contacted the disease – while going to the office or to a market – they cannot just go and get a test done. They have to develop symptoms like a fever first and then find a doctor who is willing to certify that this is a fit case for a test; most doctors, though, would recommend waiting for a week or so before prescribing a test.
Or take the case of a person who wants to go to a hospital for a procedure; unless the person exhibits Covid symptoms, no test can be carried out; and without the test, the hospital will not do a procedure. Even if a parent has contracted the disease, a test cannot be done for an asymptomatic child; the only option is a friendly doctor willing to write a prescription, after which a private laboratory will do the test.
In the early days of the pandemic, when kits were in short supply, the guideline still made sense, but there is no such shortage now, and kits are even made locally. In any case, if the government – both in Delhi and at the Centre – is serious about arresting the spread of the infection, it should be interested in testing asymptomatic persons. After all, some weeks ago, the ICMR had said that around 70-80% of the infected were asymptomatic; given this, restricting testing to the symptomatic makes little sense.