Mumbai: Maharashtra, which has always accounted for the bulk of India’s Covid-19 cases, is now contributing more than 50 per cent of the new cases in the country, in what is being feared as a second wave.
The state, however, continues to be a laggard in Covid testing, with its performance being much below the national average — which experts say is the main reason behind the high number of new cases.
The average per million testing for Covid in India is 1,62,697, which means the country is on an average conducting 1.62 lakh tests for every 10 lakh people. For Maharashtra, this figure stands at 1,33,313.
The testing numbers are sub par despite Maharashtra having nearly doubled its daily number of tests over the past two weeks.
“There is definitely scope to ramp up testing and that is the only way to arrest the rise in cases. We should be able to touch the numbers that we were doing in September-October when testing was at its highest, at about 1 lakh a day. Most districts are lacking and need to up their testing numbers,” Subhash Salunkhe, technical advisor on pandemic control to the Maharashtra government, told ThePrint.
Maharashtra has been recording more than 8,000 Covid-positive cases daily over the past few days. India Monday recorded over 15,000 fresh cases.
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Falling short of its own targets
As Covid cases suddenly started spiking in Maharashtra early February, state Health Minister Rajesh Tope instructed all district collectors and municipal bodies, where a high number of new Covid cases are being reported, to ensure that at least 20-30 people for every positive patient are traced and tested.
सर्वाधिक प्रादुर्भाव असलेल्या जिल्ह्यांमध्ये कॉन्टॅक्ट ट्रेसिंगचे प्रमाण वाढवावे. एका रुग्णामागे किमान 20 ते 30 निकट सहवासितांची तपासणी करुन चाचण्यांचे प्रमाण वाढवावे आणि पॉझिटिव्हिटी दर 10% पेक्षा खाली आणावा असे निर्देश संबंधित जिल्हाधिकारी आणि महापालिका आयुक्तांना दिले आहेत.
— Rajesh Tope (@rajeshtope11) February 18, 2021
Maharashtra has nearly doubled its daily testing to over 80,000 a day from about 40,000 just two weeks ago.
For instance, on 28 February, the state conducted 84,794 Covid tests of which 8,293 were positive — a positivity rate of 9.7 per cent. On 27 February and 26 February, the number of tests were 87,299 and 85,932, while the daily positivity rate was 9.8 per cent and 9.6 per cent, respectively.
“The principles of treatment of Covid are (to) identify, diagnose, isolate and treat. In ‘identify’ and ‘diagnose’, 80 per cent of patients are asymptomatic. They are diagnosed only in contact-tracing. Otherwise they won’t even go to a doctor. They are detected as positive only if contact-tracing is strong,” said Dr Avinash Bhondwe, president of the Maharashtra unit of the Indian Medical Association.
“If 8,000 are positive, 1.60 lakh tests should be conducted. Contact-tracing and increasing testing is very important, which is not happening anywhere in Maharashtra,” Dr Bhondwe said.
Salunkhe said district collectors and municipal bodies have been advised to tap all private doctors in their jurisdiction and test all the fever cases being reported to them.
“The state will be able to reach its desired testing numbers and ensure the testing is not random, but more targeted if this is done,” he added.
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Poor testing at most hotspots
Of the total new cases in Maharashtra every day, about 40 per cent are from the cities of Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur and the Amravati district.
Of these, Amravati, which emerged as a hotspot only earlier this month, is the most worrying with respect to its test positivity rate.
Two weeks ago, Amravati was reporting a weekly positivity rate of about 35 per cent.
District Collector Shelesh Nawal told ThePrint this has dipped to 23-24 per cent now as the district aggressively increased testing. However, he agreed that the district needs to cast the net wider.
“We are now testing about 2,000 to 2,400 per day. Until last month, this number was between 600 and 800. But the testing is still lower than the state average and we need to do more. We are targeting super-spreaders such as shopkeepers, hawkers, electricians, plumbers and so on, and hope to take the daily testing to 3,000 to 3,200 a day,” Nawal said.
Amravati district is able to trace about 9-10 people for every Covid-positive person, and the immediate goal is to take this figure to at least 15.
On 28 February, Amravati reported 862 new Covid cases, with 632 being from within the Amravati city limits.
The cities of Nagpur and Pune have been reporting a positivity rate of about 10 per cent every day, in line with the overall state figure.
Over the past two days, 7,068 and 7,137 Covid tests were conducted within the jurisdiction of the Nagpur Municipal Corporation. Of these, 722 and 734 were positive, respectively.
“We have identified about 10 hotspots within Nagpur where we are seeing new patients every day and focusing on these areas for home checks and rigorous contact-tracing. Tests have already been increased. Till a few days ago, the daily testing was just about 4,000,” said Manish Soni, the public relations officer for the Nagpur civic body.
In Pune too, it is the same story.
The civic body has already increased testing over the last few days since a fresh surge in cases is being reported, but the testing is still falling short of 20-30 people per positive person as prescribed by Health Minister Tope.
“The daily testing right now is the highest that it has ever been through the pandemic. But, we are now focusing more seriously on contact-tracing. We are creating micro containment zones within the city. Any building with over five positive cases and societies with over 20 positive cases will be declared as micro containment zones,” said Rubal Agarwal, additional municipal commissioner in the Pune civic body.
Mumbai, which continues to report the most number of cases in Maharashtra, is the only hotspot where the civic body has managed to maintain a daily test positivity rate of under 5 per cent. The city touched a 5 per cent positivity rate in December.
The World Health Organization had in May recommended that the positivity rate should remain below 5 per cent for at least two weeks before governments can consider reopening. Experts believe that a test positivity rate of under 5 per cent indicates that the testing is adequate.
Over the last three days, the Mumbai civic body has been conducting close to 22,000 tests daily, and has been reporting about 1,000 to 1,100 cases.
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