The Delhi High Court directed the AAP government on Thursday to give an action plan on ramping up the COVID-19 testing, saying it was “imperative” as the city on June 24 recorded the highest daily increase in coronavirus cases, more than anywhere else in the country.
Delhi recorded 3,788 fresh coronavirus cases on Wednesday, taking the tally to over 70,000, while the number of deaths due to COVID-19 climbed to 2,365. “Give an action plan on ramping up testing in the national capital which is imperative since as of yesterday (June 24), Delhi tops the country with the largest number of increase in cases in a single day at 3.788,” a bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Subramonium Prasad said.
It directed the Delhi government, represented by its additional standing counsel Satyakam, to also file an affidavit containing a computed and tabulated statement of the number of tests carried out under each category, like the rapid antigen detection test and the newly proposed antibody test scheduled to commence from June 27.
Besides, the bench directed the Centre and the Delhi government to publicise and upload on their website an advisory issued on June 23 by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) permitting private hospitals to carry out the rapid antigen detection test which gives results within 15-20 minutes.
However, the results of rapid antigen detection test are not very accurate and any negative result is to be confirmed by the more accurate RT/PCR test, the Centre said. RT/PCR, short for Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction, is a laboratory technique widely used in the diagnosis of genetic diseases and to measure gene expression in research.
The bench, in its order, also directed the Delhi government to file an affidavit indicating compliance of the recommendations made in the June 23 meeting of the committee constituted by the Lieutenant Governor to advise the Delhi Disaster Management Authority.
The committee in its meeting of June 23 had discussed the difficulties, like duplication of data, cumbersome data entry process, manpower shortage and financial non-viability of onsite sample collection, being faced by the private labs in carrying out the COVID-19 tests. Dealing with the difficulties, the committee recommended that data with regard to the tests shall be collected only on the RT/PCR app and will only be uploaded on the ICMR website and no other app would be used for data collection, the status report filed by the Delhi government stated.’
The report further said that the committee was of the view that data entry operator numbers be augmented to help with the manpower shortage and that no lab should accept samples beyond their processing capacity, so that results can be obtained within 48 hours.
The committee also recommended setting up of an interactive platform and holding of virtual meetings with the labs to address their grievances, the report said. With regard to the court’s observation on June 18 that testing capacity of private labs was being underutilised, the Delhi government in its report has said that while the designated COVID testing private labs have a self-declared capacity of nearly 7,220 samples per day, they have pledged merely 2.030 of that for the Delhi government on a daily basis.
Satyakam, during the hearing, also informed the court about the Delhi government’s proposed antibody test, set to start from June 27, as part of which 4,000 blood samples per day would be randomly collected from various parts of the city for five days and they would be tested for development of any immunity against COVID.
The serological test or ‘sero surveillance’, which its being called, would help to identify those who have recovered from COVID-19 without being tested because they were asymptomatic, had mild disease, or could not get tested for some reason, he said.
He also told the court that from June 18-23, 68,041 rapid antigen tests were carried out and 41,155 samples were collected using the RT/PCR method, leading to a total of 1,09,196 tests at an average of 18,200 samples per day.
The court on June 22 had asked the AAP government to try and increase the COVID testing methodology, Rapid Antigen Test (RAT), in view of rise in coronavirus cases in the national capital.
The bench was hearing an application by advocate Sanjeev Sharma who has contended there have been several instances where non-COVID patients needing surgery or emergent procedures are required to undergo testing before that, but hospital concerned is unable to conduct the test as they are not permitted to do so by Delhi government.
The application by Sharma was filed in the main petition of advocate Rakesh Malhotra who had sought swift testing of COVID-19 cases and declaration of results within 48 hours.
The high court had on May 4 disposed of the petition with a direction to the Delhi government to publish on its websites correct data of tests conducted, number of positive results and pending outcomes. The application has also alleged that the high court’s May 4 direction was not being complied with properly by the Delhi government.