People being tested for novel coronavirus at an ITBP quarantine facility in Chhawla, New Delhi on Wednesday, March 11, 2020.(HT Photo)
People being tested for novel coronavirus at an ITBP quarantine facility in Chhawla, New Delhi on Wednesday, March 11, 2020.(HT Photo)

How India is lagging behind coronavirus testing schedule

With the total number of coronavirus cases rising to 126 in the country, there is an urgent need for India to dramatically expand the pool of patients getting tested for the virus, allow voluntary testing, and rope in the private sector.
New Delhi | By HT Correspondent
UPDATED ON MAR 17, 2020 01:59 PM IST

India on Tuesday reported its third death from novel coronavirus when a 64-year-old man died at Mumbai’s Kasturba hospital from Covid-19 disease.

With the total number of coronavirus cases rising to 126 in the country, there is an urgent need for India to dramatically expand the pool of patients getting tested for the virus, allow voluntary testing, and rope in the private sector. Medical experts have called for an immediate overhaul of testing protocols to fight the disease that has killed over 7,000 people worldwide.

Here’s a look at the shortfalls in India’s testing system and where we stand when we compare ourselves to the other countries of the world that have tackled the crisis:

1. Testing per million

As of March 16, India has tested 9,100 samples for coronavirus. This means that we have only managed to test 6.8 samples for every million people living in the country. This places India among the lowest in the world in terms of people tested with respect to population. In comparison, countries such as South Korea have tested over 274,000 samples, placing it among the countries with the best testing ratio

 

2. South Korean model

•One of the fastest responding governments in the world to the crisis has been South Korea. Nearly as soon as the outbreak started there in mid-February, the govternmen rapidly scaled its testing services in an effort to detect as many cases as possible. They are testing hundreds of thousands and tracking potential carriers like detectives, using cell phone and satellite technology.

•On an average, South Korea has been testing nearly 12,000 patients every day — for context, their daily testing rate is higher than India’s total tests.

•South Korea has set up “drive-thru” testing facilities in empty parking lots where medical staff lean into cars to check their passengers. The process takes about 10 minutes, and people receive the results in a text a few hours later.

 

3. Failure of the American system

The United States, with a far bigger population than South Korea, has been incredibly slow to respond. With six times the population, the US (3,173) has nearly one-third the total number of cases of South Korea (8,162). But it’s the gap in the testing numbers that paints a grim picture for the US. If we start comparing their testing figures from the day they reported their 100th case, South Korea had tested nearly 109,000 samples. In contrast, US has only tested 27,000 in the same period.

4. Rules on testing too rigid

Currently, if you want to get tested in India, you must fulfil a long list of criteria. Firstly, you must have travel history to an area where a Covid-19 outbreak is underway. You can also get tested if you have come in direct contact with someone who has been a confirmed or suspected carrier of the virus. But say if you have fever and can’t fulfil any of these two criteria, then no facility in India will test you for the virus.

5. Role of private sector

In the South Korean model, 90% of testing has been done by private laboratories. Authorities in South Korea have said they learned their lessons the hard way — by not having sufficient resources to cope with previous epidemics, notably the 2015 MERS outbreak.

6. Utilising infrastructure

While India has 300,000 diagnostic kits, the number of tests conducted remains low. On Monday, the govt said that it has placed order for 1 million more kits from Germany. But for these to be utilised, number of tests will need to be scaled up to prevent outbreaks. This means that so far, India has only utilised roughly 2.3% of its testing kits.

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