Mumbai labs see sharp drop in Covid-19 tests

ByRupsa Chakraborty, Mumbai
May 14, 2021 12:14 AM IST

With the drop in the number of daily Covid-19 patients, government and private laboratories are seeing a 36-50% dip in demand for RT-PCR and rapid antigen tests in May compared to April

With the drop in the number of daily Covid-19 patients, government and private laboratories are seeing a 36-50% dip in demand for RT-PCR and rapid antigen tests in May compared to April. Health officials attribute it to the lockdown imposed in mid-April, which restricted movement, and consequently cases and the tests for their close contacts.

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Amid the spike in cases in April, private laboratories were receiving around 15,000 swab samples daily, which is now down to around 8,000. In the first week of May, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) chief Iqbal Singh Chahal, too, confirmed the dip. Data from the BMC shows that overall testing in the city has dropped 36% in May – from an average of 43,354 tests a day to 27,798.

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Chandrashekhar Mani, vice-president (operations), Thyrocare, said, “The demand for testing has dropped by almost 50% this month compared to the previous months. When the second wave started, the state, in a circular, instructed corporate houses to test their employees, which added to the demand for testing. Firstly, they asked for RT-PCR testing, and gradually allowed rapid antigen tests.”

Suburban Diagnostics, too, has seen a similar trend. Dr Anupa Dixit, laboratory director of the diagnostic centre, said, “As we have seen a drop in the daily Covid-19 cases, the number of tests has naturally gone down. At present, we are testing 7,000-8,000 samples daily.”

Last month, the city broke all records on April 7, with 11,163 new cases, the highest since the outbreak of the pandemic. On an average, the city was recording 6,800 new cases daily. The overall growth rate worsened to 1.91%, with a doubling rate of 35 days.

However, as of May 12, the city’s doubling rate has improved to 176 days and the overall growth rate is 0.38%. The daily average of Covid-19 cases stands at 2,100 in May.

“In April, our main target was testing as many people as possible. We were tracking 40 close contacts for every patient. On certain days, we even conducted 56,000 tests. But now, the number of daily tests has dropped to around 28,000, as the infection rate has fallen. With this, the need for testing close contacts of patients has also declined,” said Suresh Kakani, additional commissioner, BMC.

Public health experts point out that the lockdown has largely contributed to it. “The lockdown has helped control the spread of the virus, thereby bringing down the demand for testing. Also, last month, we were testing all local vendors and roadside stall owners, which has stopped now because of the lockdown,” said Dr Mangala Gomare, executive health officer, BMC.

On May 5, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) reiterated the guideline that a person who has tested positive for Covid-19 need not undergo another test after completing the mandatory quarantine period or post recovery. Experts believe this may also be one of the contributing factors behind the drop in testing numbers.

In April, the labs were overwhelmed with work and faced severe shortage of testing kits, which delayed the reports by more than two-three days.

“Now, with fewer samples, most labs are able to give the reports within 36 hours,” said Mani.

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