NEW DELHI: The numbers of swab samples pending for tests in Delhi has gone up seven times over the last one month — from 470 on April 1 to 3,295 as on April 29. Officials say this delay is causing serious problems in identifying positive cases, tracing their contacts and even in deciding whether a patient has recovered and he or she can be allowed to go home or not.
Delhi has 20 labs — 8 government-run and 12 private labs — that are approved for Covid-19 testing, which is among the highest for any city in the country. Some of the swab samples from the state are also sent to National Institute of Biologicals in Noida, which has an automated machine that undertakes 1,000 tests a day and has a faster turnaround time.
But, according to an order issued by the Delhi health secretary Wednesday, NIB, where majority of the city sam ples were being sent over the past 15 days, wasn’t releasing reports expeditiously.
All deputy commissions shall ensure no sample is sent to NIB till May 3. The sample shall be distributed among the other government and private labs, so as to ensure that the results are received within one day of submission of sample to the respective lab,” the health secretary ordered.
This may, however, not contain the crisis of pendency of tests results totally. Of the eight government labs in Delhi, five are run by centre and one of them is run by the Army Research and Referral hospital. Some of them, for example the lab run by National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and AIIMS, get swab samples from states like UP, Rajasthan and Jammu & Kashmir as well.
“The Centre has directed us to expedite testing for Delhi and we are taking measures to ensure the same,” said an NCDC official. Only two labs run by Delhi government, one at Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences (ILBS) and another one at Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC), are approved for Covid-19 testing. Sources said their combined capacity for daily testing is less than 500 at present which isn’t sufficient to meet the increased demand. “RT-PCR test, which is recommended for Covid-19, takes five to six hours.
Specialised manpower is required to perform the task. We cannot expand the testing limits beyond a point,” said an official at ILBS. Dr J C Passey, medical director of Lok Nayak hospital, said their lab is running the clock and 70-80 tests were being conducted daily.
“We are in the process of procuring automated extraction system machine which will help us scale up testing capacity to more than 400 samples daily,” he said. Recently, the state government made arrangement for sending swab samples to private labs for testing. The head of one such lab said they weren’t receiving enough samples as government would prefer to use its own lab first.
“We are charging Rs 3,500 if the sample is sent to us. If we have to go and collect the samples too, reimbursement amount comes to Rs 4500 per person,” he said. RT-PCR testing for Covid-19, which has been approved by the ICMR, takes longer than rapid kit tests and it requires specialised manpower. Delhi had initiated screening of persons in high-risk zones using rapid kit tests, but that remains suspended as its results were found to be inconsistent.

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