Get real about Covid 2.0: India cannot be lowering its guard on testing right now

By: |
October 30, 2020 5:50 AM

Workplace traffic is still 27% lower than the baseline, but this was 40% lower on September 11.

Perhaps why the head of Thyrocare, a leading chain of testing laboratories, told CNBC-TV18 that many state governments were trying to control the level of testing being done.Perhaps why the head of Thyrocare, a leading chain of testing laboratories, told CNBC-TV18 that many state governments were trying to control the level of testing being done.

Though Prime minister Modi did his best to tell fellow citizens not to lower their guard against Covid-19—we are in the middle of the festive season and winter months are more conducive for the infection-spread—it is not clear this had the desired effect. It doesn’t help, of course, that while the prime minister was advising citizens to ensure they kept do gaz ki doori from others, the Bihar elections has seen crowded election rallies since, over time, the Election Commission even relaxed rules for the size of gatherings, apparently oblivious to the fact that, once there is a crowd, ensuring distancing is practically impossible. In the capital, the Delhi government is running short of buses and has asked the state’s disaster management authority for permission to operate DTC buses at full capacity instead of what is allowed today. Indeed, as the Google mobility reports show, traffic patterns in the country are also showing a return to normalcy; visits to super-markets and pharmacies are 18% above the baseline, public transport is 16% lower than the baseline, but this was 40% lower on September 11. Workplace traffic is still 27% lower than the baseline, but this was 40% lower on September 11.

While some part of the resumption has to be expected since, unlike some developed countries, India cannot afford to lockdown again, what is especially worrying is the other mistakes being made. In the last one month, for instance, testing levels have risen marginally—from 11.1 lakh per day on September 29, using a 7-day moving average, to 11.3 lakh on October 29—but, more worryingly, they have gone down dramatically in states that account for a large part of India’s infection load. Maharashtra accounts for 12.9% of India’s daily infections and its testing has fallen by over a third, from 1,01,448 per day on September 29 (using 7-day averages, again) to 63,055 on October 29. Perhaps why the head of Thyrocare, a leading chain of testing laboratories, told CNBC-TV18 that many state governments were trying to control the level of testing being done. Delhi accounts for 8.9% of the country’s infection-load, and tests are down just 2.2% between September 29 and October 29, but there’s an additional problem here; about 75% of Delhi’s daily tests are rapid antigen tests (RAT) which catch a much smaller number of infections than the RT-PCR tests do. Kerala accounts for 14.9% of India’s infections and has done well to increase its testing by 8.8%; but, as in the case of Delhi, three-fourths are RAT. Bihar accounts for just 1.6% of the infection-load but, given it is in the middle of a big super-spreader event, it should be stepping up testing dramatically; in the last one month, its tests fell by 17.2%. While it is true that states are cash-strapped, and, hence, prefer the lower-cost RATs, perhaps the centre should be giving the states more funds to ensure the more reliable RT-PCR are used; keep in mind that every infection not detected raises the likelihood of Covid-19 spreading faster later.

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