States shouldn’t cut Covid testing. It trims virus spread, helps people get timely treatment

Despite the second Covid wave still seeing high daily cases and deaths, six worst-hit states have scaled down testing over the last fortnight. Overall tests across the country have gone up by almost 6% during this period, but Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Telangana, Delhi and Uttarakhand have reduced tests. Karnataka, which now has the second highest number of Covid deaths in the country, saw testing go down by 4.8 lakh samples during May 4-17 compared to the previous fortnight.

During the same period tests came down by 3.7 lakh in Gujarat, 2.6 lakh in Maharashtra and by more than 1.8 lakh in Telangana. Uttarakhand and Rajasthan reduced testing by about 1 lakh each, while in Delhi testing has come down by more than 52,000 in the last two weeks. This suggests officials are not even trying to capture the real number of infections in the current surge. Lower testing fails to provide healthcare systems with adequate data about the spread of the disease, the way it’s evolving, and the potential infection hotspots. This may also lead to premature declarations of mission accomplished, while the enemy multiplies within.

From last year itself we have known that this is akin to fighting the pandemic blindfolded. Hence the massive investment and policy focus on expanding capacity. There is also the issue of quality of testing with the gold standard RT-PCR tests usually taking a hit when overall testing numbers come down – this is precisely what happened in Delhi. This again would mean more positive cases going undetected. Identification of infection in asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals is particularly critical in interrupting the spread of infection. The poorer our surveillance of the virus, the more it will stay ahead of us.


This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.


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