Test results delayed as labs face rush amid Covid surge
Officials and members of the public say getting a Covid-19 test has become hard in several parts of the country and results for those who manage to get swabbed take more than two days, as the surge in infections and close surveillance has triggered a rush for RT-PCR tests.
The problem has been acute in hot spot states and urban centres, and officials and experts warn that the crisis could further imperil containment efforts as contact tracers lose precious time in reaching any of the suspected cases before they can pass the disease on further.
“For three days last week, we had to completely stop taking new clients,” said Dr A Velumani, chairman and managing director of Thyrocare, a private company that began conducting RT-PCR tests in its laboratories in Mumbai last year. Reports are now taking 36 hours to be issued as the company records a weekly jump of 20% in samples collected since mid-February. “In at least 100 cases last week, we have issued reports to travellers who were already at the airport to board flights,” he said.
Between April 5 and April 10, Mumbai tested between 47,000 to 52,000 samples daily. “Mumbai’s current RT-PCR testing capacity stands at 45,000,” said a civic official who did not wish to be named. “If the cases don’t increase further, this capacity is enough. During the first wave, the city’s daily testing capacity was 25,000,” the official added.
“Our Covid-19 test was done only 48 hours after the request was made,” said Pudhumai Muniyappa, who said that getting a test in Karnataka’s capital Bengaluru was difficult. “It was after much pleading I got an appointment for bringing my elderly father to a sample collection centre.”
Karnataka government officials admitted of long queues at testing centers even though the state said it aims to conduct more than 100,000 tests a day.
A Thane based commercial photographer, Amit Rane, 26, cancelled his flight to Bhubaneshwar twice last week after none of the laboratories could guarantee him a Covid-19 test report before the flight taking off time. “I was literally in tears. I felt helpless with all that was happening. I lost ₹16,000 on the flights in a week,” said Rane.
Officials of another high Covid infection state, Chhattisgarh, said sample collection was taking up to 2 days in hot spot cities even though the state has increased testing to 50,000 from about 10,000 a month ago.
In Madhya Pradesh’s Bhopal and Indore, officials said test reports were being made available only after three to five days depending on the severity of infection, while in some districts reports are coming within 48 hours. “There is a wait for up to two days to get the tests done for people having mild symptoms,” said a state health department official. State health minister Prabhuram Chaudhary said, “We are improving the testing facilities in MP. As of now, about 40,000 tests are being done daily. We are closely monitoring the situation.”
In southern states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, results took up to 48 hours after sample collection.
Telangana health minister Eatala Rajender said only 10% of the required number of RT-PCR tests were being done and they were trying to increasing the capacity by another five percentage points. “Even in private diagnostic centres, not more than 20,000 to 21,000 RT-PCR tests are being conducted every day,” he said, adding there was no scarcity of Covid beds in the state. Officials in Andhra Pradesh said that the situation was no different there.
Jharkhand too is reeling under a backlog of untested samples. Till April 11, Jharkhand had a backlog of 21,411 samples while Odisha had of about 20,000 samples. “In some cases, results are coming in up to 5 days after sample collection,” a Jharkhand government official on condition of anonymity said, adding that over 5,000 samples were sent to ICMR, Bhubaneswar for testing.
Dr Bijay Mohapatra, Odisha’s director of health services said there was no delay in sample testing and any backlog. “All RT-PCR tests are being done in ICMR lab as well as government medical colleges,” he said.
Low Covid infected states such as Tripura and Assam also reported no delays in getting the tests done and delivery of reports. “We conduct RT-PCR tests on those who are symptomatic and came in contact with such patients several times. Generally it takes 24-36 hours to get RT-PCR reports,” said state surveillance officer Dr. Deep Kumar Debbarma. On Sunday, Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma stated that there is no delay in Covid testing in the state.
(with inputs from state bureaus)