Rapid antigen kits, tests without prescription may push up cases in Mumbai
Civic body says too early to tell; experts say scaling up testing is the only way outUpdated: Jul 11, 2020 10:36 IST
At a time when the city crossed 90,000 Covid-19 cases, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is expecting a spike in the number of daily cases owing to the increase in tests to 5,000 daily and the permission to conduct tests without a prescription. BMC is also using 1 lakh rapid antigen kits that give results in 30 minutes to increase the testing strength.
As of July 9, 3.79 lakh tests have been conducted in Mumbai, with a positive rate of 23.39%, according to BMC data. In May, the average daily tests conducted by BMC was 3,800, followed by 4,300 in June, and going up to nearly 5,000 tests daily. The figure includes both RT-PCR and rapid antigen testing.
Suresh Kakani, additional municipal commissioner, BMC, said it would be difficult to predict a spike or decline in cases. “We can’t claim cases have saturated or peaked or we will see a downward trend now. We have made preparations to cater to a spike in the number of cases for the coming days. With liberalised testing guidelines and use of rapid antigen kits, we might see a spike in the coming days, but we will have to wait for a few more days for the impact to be seen.”
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Kakani said, “We are already conducting around 5,000 tests daily, and this number will go up further to 6,000 or 7,000. However, we can’t tell how many tests will be conducted daily. It depends [on various factors]. We have been using rapid antigen kits for which we are floating bids to appoint private laboratories to carry out tests on a larger scale.”
Currently, BMC has tested 2,000 samples using the rapid antigen kits, and 5% of those have come positive. However, the kits are majorly being used in the suburbs, where cases are rising at a faster pace, and among frontline workers.
BMC in a circular issued on July 7 said any person who thinks he was in close contact with a patient who tested positive and is a high-risk contact, irrespective of the age, can get tested. BMC has also asked ward officers in western suburbs to use antigen kits and conduct at least 250 tests daily. Private laboratories are anticipating a surge in queries, while many said they are getting double the number of queries now.
Metropolis, a private laboratory in a statement, said, “We have witnessed an increase in queries from patients, almost double the number of daily queries. We ensure details such as symptoms or high-risk contacts are captured. Our team is geared up to handle the spike and our goal is to issue reports within 24 hours. We have the capacity to conduct a few thousand tests per day.”
Ravi Aggarwal, regional COO, SRL Diagnostics, another laboratory involved in conducting Covid-19 testing, said, “It is evident that the government is now trying to adequately scale up testing – a measure that alone could hold the key to beating the outbreak. Being one of the few labs in Mumbai that has the highest testing capacity, we are well prepared to cater to the volumes which are likely to go up. We have a 24x7 operation set-up which has been further reinforced in anticipation of the increased patient flow. The process so far has been appointment-based as well as walk-ins without prior appointments, however, as we foresee an increase in volumes, we would suggest and urge patients to make prior appointments, so that we can implement social distancing norms for everyone’s benefit.”
Siddarth Paliwal, a city-based private health consultant, said, “There is no doubt that daily testing has increased, but we need to scale it up. We already have 1 lakh rapid antigen kits in our hand. We should set a timeline wherein a certain number of additional tests should be conducted using these kits in the next two weeks.”
Former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis , who has been criticising BMC, tweeted on Friday: “In a city like #Mumbai where 89,124 patients got diagnosed as COVID-19 positive, why is the number of daily tests so less especially when 24% of the total tests are positive? It is difficult to win the war against corona without increasing the number of tests.”
The city has been witnessing cases between 1,000 and 1,500 on a daily basis since the last week of May. On Friday, Mumbai recorded 1,337 fresh cases and 73 new deaths. City’s case tally rose to 90,461 while the toll touched 5,205. The total number of discharged patients in Mumbai is 61,934, with a recovery rate of 68.46%. Further, active cases stand at 23,305. The fatality rate as of Friday was 5.75% and the doubling rate was 49 days. One hot spot that has shown signs of drastic improvement – Dharavi – recorded 12 new cases on Friday, bringing the area’s case count to 2,359, of which 1,952 have been discharged. Meanwhile, Mumbai mayor Kishori Pednekar visited the Covid-19 ward in Sion hospital on Friday and interacted with the patients. Pednekar also requested the patients to donate their blood plasma after recovery to save others’ lives.