New Kerala model: Reduce testing when Covid cases keep going up

Express News Service

KOCHI:  Is the state administration’s resolve about keeping the Covid pandemic in check waning under the onslaught of the third wave? If the reduced testing rate, incommensurate with the increasing infection rate, and blind reliance on antigen testing alone are anything to go by, this seems to be the case. It is inexplicable that the testing numbers in the state are coming down at a time when cases are increasing exponentially, opine experts.

They advise it is time the state ramped up testing in line with the pace of infection so that maximum possible infected people are identified and treated. A total of 41,054 Covid tests were conducted on September 15 and the test positivity rate (number of positive cases per 100 tests) was 7.83%. In comparison, the TPR was 15.53% on October 15.

While the TPR has nearly doubled, the number of tests per day has increased by just 22% to 50,154. Apart from the reduced testing, the huge variation in the number of tests done daily is also worrying, they say. As many as 61,629 samples were tested on October 11, but the number dropped to 38,259 the very next day, only to rise slightly to 48,253 on October 13.

State should ramp up testing to 1L per day: Experts

“The  current testing strategy should be revised and the number of tests should be increased substantially. At a time when the number of cases is rising and the pandemic is peaking, the testing should be ramped up to one lakh or 1.5 lakh per day. Today, we have 8,000 cases while conducting 50,000 tests. The testing should be doubled so that we can identify and quarantine as many infected as possible to curb further spread of the infection,” said Indian Medical Association (IMA) state secretary Dr P Gopikumar.

“We all know that the healthcare system is stretched to its limits. But if we let our guard down at this crucial time, all our efforts so far will go in vain. We will have a prolonged fight against Covid, with a large number of fatalities. Even those who are identified in the primary contact lists of patients should be tested,” said Dr Gopikumar.

Health economist Rijo M John feels it’s high time the testing is scaled up.“Unidentified cases will continue to spread the infection if they are not tested and identified in time. This is the time for the state to scale up the number of tests. Other states, which had earlier reported a high number of cases, maintained high testing consistently. We should rethink our strategy and increase our testing rate immediately,” he said.Dr Tinku Joseph, pulmonologist at AIMS Kochi, warned against over-reliance on rapid antigen tests. Currently, antigen tests account for more than 70 per cent of the total tests.

“Over-dependence on the antigen test is not advisable since its sensitivity is much lower than that of TrueNat and RTPCR tests. However, since we don’t have enough facilities to conduct many RT-PCR tests, relying on antigen tests is perhaps the only feasible option at present. We should ensure that all the symptomatic cases are tested,” he said.

Though Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, during one of his media addresses on the Covid situation, had assured that the reduction in testing would be investigated, the government is yet to come up with an explanation. “The government is not deliberately keeping the numbers of tests low. The strategy has always been to increase the tests. There may be some technical issues as the data comes from private and government hospitals across the state,” said a member of the state Covid expert committee.

Centre deputes teams to Kerala, 4 other states

New Delhi: High-level central teams have been deputed to Kerala, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal, which have been reporting a surge in Covid cases, to support them in management of the disease. The Union health ministry on Friday said these teams will support the states towards strengthening containment, surveillance, testing, infection prevention and control measures.