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Chhattisgarh’s latest Covid crisis symptoms: Testing kits run out, long lines at centres

Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel tells ThePrint more antigen kits have been ordered to meet the increased demand amid a backlog in RT PCR tests results.

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Raipur, Rajnandgaon: Chhattisgarh’s woes amid its devastating second Covid-19 wave have been compounded by another major problem — a shortage of testing kits, not just of the RT PCR but also the rapid antigen variety.

The shortage, especially of the rapid antigen testing kits, has resulted in long queues and waiting periods lasting hours at testing camps in capital Raipur and its adjoining districts.

“I have been waiting here since 10 am,” said Munim Tiwari at 4 pm Tuesday at Raipur’s Kalibari government testing camp. “I tested positive two weeks ago, so I have come to get a retest to check if I am still positive.”

Dr Antara, a health department official at the camp, admitted that there is a dearth of testing kits.

“There is a shortage of kits, that’s why the waiting time stretches into hours. We are only doing RT PCR tests for very serious cases; by and large we are trying to avoid RT PCR tests as the waiting time for results is now going upto a week,” Dr Antara said. “More and more people are coming to get tested so we are relying more on antigen kits.”

Tushar Bagh, a health department official at the government testing centre set up at Deen Dayal Upadhyay auditorium in Raipur, said that the long waiting queues have caused another problem.

“We are trying to ration out our kits and ensure there is no wastage as there is a shortage. We are seeing at least 500-700 people everyday coming in for tests,” he said. “Sometimes people fill the forms but leave without getting tested because the waiting period is long. But our kit gets wasted in such a scenario as we label them according to the registered patients.”

He added that with cases rising, the number of people wanting to get tested has also increased.

According to the Chhattisgarh government’s daily Covid bulletin, total cases have almost doubled in the state, rising from 3,23,153 on 20 March to a total of 5,74,299 cases on 20 April.

In the same period, daily cases have also seen a massive spike, climbing from just 1,273 on 20 March to 15,625 on 20 April.

According to Ministry of Health Family Welfare (MoHFW) data, Chhattisgarh has recorded a total of 6,274 deaths as of 20 April.

Also read: Chhattisgarh blames Maharashtra for Covid spike, but border checks at Rajnandgaon ‘missing’

Working around the shortage

It’s not just capital Raipur but even adjoining districts that are facing a shortage of kits.

On Sunday, testing stopped at two government testing centres in Rajnandgaon as kits had run out. The Chief Medical Officer at Rajnandgaon, Dr Mithilesh Choudhari, confirmed to ThePrint Monday that kits had run out the previous day.

“We had to stop testing because we ran out of kits. But now we have arranged for kits and testing has resumed,” he said.

Even at the testing camp set up at the Raipur railway station, ThePrint learnt that kits had run out at 11 am Monday. “We need 600 kits everyday. Today kits are already over so our personnel have gone to the health department office to try and get more kits. We are hoping that we will get kits by noon,” said K.L. Yadav, the health department official who was helming the camp.

Yadav also said that the shortage of kits has made them change their strategy at the camp. “We were testing all incoming passengers from other states when testing began here on the 13th. But now since there is a shortage of kits, we are only testing those whose oxygen levels are below 90,” he said.

Testing under way at Raipur’s Kalibari government testing camp | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht/ThePrint

Testing under way at Raipur’s Kalibari government testing camp | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht/ThePrint

‘Antigen kits have been ordered to meet shortage’

Speaking to ThePrint Tuesday, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel pinned the shortage on the increased testing in the state.

“In January we were testing 22,000 samples per day, in March that increased to 30,000 and now with the spike we are doing 50,000-53,000 tests. Our testing per million population now is 1,700 and only Telangana, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh are ahead of us,” he said. “Our testing per million is also above the national average, which is 1,000 per million. So while some districts have reported shortages, we are trying to plug the shortages. In addition, now that we have started testing at railway stations and bus stops and airports as well, we have ordered more kits to keep up with this increased demand.”

State government data reveals that testing has increased from a daily total of 36,393 tests on 20 March to 50,699 on 20 April.

A senior health department official, however, said that while there is a shortage of antigen kits, there is also a backlog of 20,000 RT PCR tests.

Baghel said that the backlog in RT PCR tests is due to the limited capacity of RT PCR labs in the state. “Earlier, only AIIMS Raipur could do RT PCR tests, but now we have seven more labs and another four will start soon. So we will have a total of 11 RT PCR labs,” he said. “We also have five private RT PCR labs. Labs have limited capacity, so yes, there are long waiting periods for RT PCR test results, but we are trying to ramp up these tests and we are also increasing the number of labs for that.”

He also said that there’s an increased demand for testing not just because of the spike in cases but also because of a change in mindset. “Earlier people were hesitant to get tested, but now people want to get tested with the spike in cases, and that is reflected in the queues,” the chief minister said.

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)

Also read: Modi govt didn’t alert states on 2nd Covid wave, we could’ve prepared: Chhattisgarh CM Baghel


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