Covid-19: Why is it so difficult to get tested in Delhi?
Most private laboratories in Delhi have either capped the number of people they test in a day or are not collecting samples for some time, making it very difficult to get tested for the coronavirus disease in he capital.
Some laboratories said they will start collecting samples from Monday.
On Sunday, HT reached out to all 23 private labs recognised by the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) to check on testing: three said they were closed for Covid-19 testing because of “technical reasons”; two said they had a token system with people coming in early in the morning to give their samples on a first- come-first-served basis; two others had an online appointment scheduling system; eight said they could schedule a test on Monday or later; seven didn’t answer ; and only one said the patient could come and get tested right away.
Delhi’s testing protocol is tighter than the Indian Council of Medical Research’s. Tests are restricted to symptomatic individuals. Even direct contacts of infected people can be tested only if they are senior citizens or have co-morbidities.
Under current rules, a senior official in the chief minister’s office explained, the first stop for a symptomatic individual should be a flu clinic (these are located in all government hospitals and the 10 private hospitals that have so far been identified by the government). There, a doctor inspects the symptoms and recommends a Covid test. A laboratory will accept any application for test only with a doctor’s recommendation.
“If the symptoms are mild, the person is assigned home isolation till the result is out. If moderate or severe, then either institutional quarantine or a hospital is recommended, depending on age and presence of co-morbidities. No patient with symptoms can be refused diagnosis by any hospital under an order issued by the (state) health department,” said the official.
Delhi currently has 42 labs for Covid tests, of which eight are temporarily suspended from collecting fresh samples.
Once the person tests positive or negative, the same factors – nature of symptoms, age, co-morbidities, etc – determine whether the person is assigned home quarantine, sent to institutional quarantine or admitted in a hospital, the official added.
It sounds simple on paper but isn’t: people who want to get tested will have to go to a doctor for a prescription for a test, get a referral form signed by that doctor, and then look for a laboratory that will test them.
Max Super Speciality Hospital in Saket and BL Kapur Memorial Hospital on Pusa road said they have a token system for tests. At Max hospital, patients have to reach at 7.30am at gate number 3 where samples are collected from the first 40 patients. At BL Kapur, 45 patients are tested, starting at 8 am.
City X Ray and Scan Clinic in Tilak Nagar and Lifeline Laboratory in Green Park were not collecting samples on Sunday. The rest said tests can be scheduled depending on whether documents are in place. Some asked for the prescription, Aadhar card and ICMR referral form to be sent on WhatAspp before a test can be scheduled on a later date.
Few labs didn’t answer calls—including Genestrings Diagnostic Centre in Sarvodaya Enclave; Gen X diagnostics in Sarvapriya Vihar; Aakash Healthcare and four others. Some of them had a book a test provision on their websites.
Eight laboratories in Delhi were banned from carrying out tests after the government pulled them up on June 5 for not following protocol, and, according to the Delhi health minister, they were taking too long to report results. These are Dr Lal Pathlabs, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Prognosis laboratory, SRL , Fortis , Star Imaging Path laboratory, Pathkind Labs and National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) .
That leaves Covid-19 suspect patients with little option but to head to a government hospital where they can get screened and tested. Or the other option is to go to the nearest mohalla (neighbourhood) clinic where a doctor can recommend a test based on severity of symptoms; these tests can happen at the 16 Delhi government test centres. But many may not choose to go directly to a government hospital for the fear of contracting the infection there.
Sambhav Bhalla (26), a banker, has locked himself up for the past four days; he suffers from fever, body ache and chills. He developed fever last week on Tuesday. He has called up many hospitals and private labs since then but none agreed to test for “technical reasons”.
“I called up a few labs and they said they can’t do the test for now. I will go to a hospital if I feel my condition is deteriorating. I am not even calling government hospitals because I know the situation will be worse there as one of my friend’s uncle passed away and got his Covid test result a week after his death,” he said on Saturday. Bhalla spoke to HT on Thursday but didn’t answer calls on Sunday. He tweeted last week about the difficulties in getting tested.
“There are two issues—individual rights and public rights. The individual has the right to get tested in a private facility if he or she feels the need to. In a government facility the government can have a policy to prioritise which cases it will test as public money is being spent. If both sides collapse it’s not good. Whether you finally get tested in private or in a government hospital they should counsel you on what you are supposed to do next based on the results. That is crucial in further spread of the infection,” said Dr Jugal Kishore, head, department of community medicine, Safdarjung Hospital.