Coronavirus in Chandigarh: At PGIMER lab, virologists are working 19 hours to test samples

Say it’s tough tackling rising rush of samples from across the region
PGI officials say more people are being trained as workload of the virology lab is expected to increase in the coming days.(Anil Dayal/HT)
PGI officials say more people are being trained as workload of the virology lab is expected to increase in the coming days.(Anil Dayal/HT)
Updated on Mar 23, 2020 12:57 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, Chandigarh | ByTanbir Dhaliwal, Chandigarh

Even as the entire tricity got together on Sunday to cheer for doctors, nurses and other hospital staff battling coronavirus, a team of about 14 at the virology department of the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) was quietly but efficiently going about its business.

Putting in 19 hours of work, finishing up as late as 2.30am every day, the team is testing samples for Covid-19 and ensuring real time delivery of reports.

The team, which started testing the samples for coronavirus from last week, is suddenly seeing a spike in the number of samples coming in from Chandigarh, Punjab and Haryana. Till reports last came in a total of 140 samples had been tested and 26 found positive. About 18 samples were being processed.

The lab is at present testing 40 samples daily though it has a capacity for 100. In an attempt to ease the lab’s burden PGIMER director Dr Jagat Ram recently urged states adjoining UT to set up their own testing centres.

About the testing facility, Dr Mini P Singh, nodal officer, COVID, laboratory services and professor at the virology department, says they have been working from 9am to 2am for the past week. “We are working in teams because this is highly specialised diagnostics work and safety of staff is also our concern. Since these are highly infectious samples, we are using bio-safety cabinets.”

The cabinets through their unique air flow system protect people from exposure to the samples. These are disinfected thrice a day, before and after testing the samples, many of which are positive, Singh says.


The samples are decontaminated first. “When the samples reach the virology lab these are stored safely in a dedicated refrigerator in one room. Once 12 to 14 samples are collected two people wearing Personal protective equipment (PPE) take them to the bio-safety cabinet for decontamination,” she says.

After a barrage of tests, it takes two hours for negative samples to be reported. An additional “confirmatory” test is done for positive samples, that’s “basically a repeat of the
previous test but targeting different genes. The final report is released after doing the confirmatory test,” she says.

So processing a sample takes six to seven hours, after which, it’s tested for two hours or more if positive.

“The results of the first set of samples, which we start processing at 11am, come in by 5pm. Today, for instance, we received samples from 9am till 11pm. They are processed thrice a day in batches,” Singh adds.

The health ministry is very strict about the reporting process, so even if a sample tests positive at 12 midnight it has to be informed in real time.

More people are being trained at the moment because they are expecting the load to increase.

About testing kits, Singh says they have a sufficient supply.

Yes, “everyone’s stressed. But as team leaders we cannot think about it,” she adds.

Right now, Singh makes sure the morale of staff members is high. They are overworked, some need counselling. “We cannot let them down,” says the doctor who at 9.30 is sitting in office compiling reports.

Her work is likely to finish by 2.30 am after which she will head home to sleep, but in another room, isolated from family members.

Then she has to be back at work at 8am.

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