Kolkata: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has said the state health department is left with only 40 kits to test for COVID-19, at a time when the number of cases has risen to seven, and the state has registered its first coronavirus-related death.
Banerjee’s government enforced a lockdown beginning 5pm Monday to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. However, addressing an all-party meeting at Nabanna, the state secretariat, Banerjee said: “We have been repeatedly asking for testing kits. We have now 40 kits. I know ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) is saying that there is no dearth of kits, but that supply must reach us.”
Banerjee said she flagged the issue during the chief ministers’ video conference with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 20 March, and added that after much persuasion, the ICMR sanctioned 90 more kits, which the state will get soon.
Opposition leaders demand increase in testing
Opposition parties like the BJP and the Congress raised the issue of stepping up testing across the state at the all-party meeting.
Congress leader Abdul Mannan said the government should go for ‘random’ testing in marketplaces that are generally crowded. In response, Banerjee repeated the “40 kits” figure.
BJP leader Jay Prakash Majumdar mentioned that he came to know after joining the meeting that only 143 samples have been tested as of now in the state. The CM reiterated that the number of kits available was only 40, adding: “Please ask the central government to increase the supply of kits. We have also spoken to some of the private laboratories. They are ready to test, but they need clearance. We are still waiting for the clearance.”
128 samples tested until Sunday
Bengal has only two testing centres, both in Kolkata — the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases, and SSKM hospital, the state’s premier super-speciality hospital.
Speaking to ThePrint, Ajoy Chakraborty, director of health services (DHS), said Monday morning: “We have two testing centres operational. We are setting up one at Midnapore; it will be operational in a day or two. Moreover, we have three private laboratories ready for testing. We need clearance.”
The DHS did not raise the issue of test kit scarcity until the CM did, and didn’t respond to ThePrint’s calls or text messages later in the day for a comment. This report will be updated when he does.
According to the health services’ statement issued Sunday, 128 samples have been tested at the two centres, 111 reports have been received, 162 people have been quarantined in hospitals, while 52 are in isolation in hospitals. The state has kept 22,725 passengers under observation, though it hasn’t specified if these were people who took flights, trains or buses.