Setting an August 15 target | HT Editorial
Ensure 50 million Covid-19 tests. It is needed, feasibleUpdated: Jul 08, 2020 18:23 IST
There is both good and bad news on the Covid-19 front. The bad news is that new hotspots are emerging, once again showing that there is no room for complacency, and India’s size and heterogeneity means that success in one state in reducing the growth rate of cases, positivity rate, and the fatality rate can co-exist with an increase in the same parameters in another state. As this newspaper reported on Wednesday, Telangana and Karnataka have now emerged as key areas of concern. Karnataka’s doubling rate is 8.5 days (which means cases are doubling in the shortest period of time in any state) and Telangana’s doubling rate is 9.5 days — when the national average is 20.4 days. Telangana’s positivity rate is 27.6% (which means that out of 100 tests, over 27 are being tested positive), even as the national average is 9.8%.
The good news comes from Mumbai, which has finally allowed walk-in testing. Testing protocols have evolved over the last three months, but it has remained contingent on getting a doctor’s prescription. This has constrained the ability of many to get tested, even though it is now universally and scientifically proven that testing, and more testing, is the only way to trace the infected, isolate and treat them, and ensure that the chain of transmission is broken. India’s testing rate has improved — but remains abysmally low at 0.8% of the population (7,661 tests per million people), compared to the United States which has tested 11% of its population or Russia which has tested 16% or China which has tested 6% of its population. Mumbai finally offers a model where anyone who wishes to get tested can do so.
There is no way to offset the bad news — the emergence of new hotspots and the continued spread of the infection — without building on the good news — ramping up testing while easing testing protocols. A regular column on Covid-19 in this newspaper, on Tuesday, offered a target — 50 million tests by August 15. India has already done over 10 million tests, but to achieve this target, it will mean a little over a million tests every day. Ensure that testing infrastructure — through both RT-PCR tests and rapid antigen tests — is adequate, and relax requirements to get tested. Instead of setting up artificial and unattainable targets for vaccine development, the Centre would do well to have a new testing target. This will be the most productive Independence Day gift in times of a pandemic.