New Delhi: Several laboratories in the national capital are working overtime and testing almost three to four times the number of swab samples for Covid-19 than usual. Over 1.8 lakh samples were tested over the past two days in Delhi, and most labs say they are “overburdened”.
Adding to the crisis is the fact that the National Institute for Cancer Prevention and Research (NICPR), one of the key centres where government hospitals in Delhi send samples collected by them, has not conducted tests on Monday and Tuesday, ThePrint has learnt, because they have run out of their consumables and items such as barrier tips, flowmetres, flasks, safety equipment among other things needed for conducting tests.
This will add to the backlog in releasing results.
The new government order to test employees at workplaces every fortnight has also added to the load. Some labs have stopped collecting swabs from residences, as many of their own staff are testing positive for the novel coronavirus, ThePrint has learnt.
The lab at National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research (NICPR), Noida, has been since the beginning of April receiving 6,000 samples every day from Delhi — against the number of 4,000 settled between the lab and the Delhi government.
Dr Suresh, a scientist at the lab, said: “Since it is the end of financial year and we did not have sufficient consumables and plastic needed for testing, we have informed the Delhi government that we will be not taking samples Monday and Tuesday.”
The lab did receive samples Monday. “But we will not be able to release reports before Wednesday. We have completed collection of over 10 lakh samples four days ago, so we are pushing ourselves,” said Dr Suresh. The lab has been receiving approximately 7,500 samples daily for the past week, including those from Uttar Pradesh.
In the past 10 days, Delhi has witnessed a massive rise in coronavirus infections, with over 66,000 people testing positive for Covid. The daily positivity rate reached 9.43 per cent Sunday, according to the Delhi government’s health bulletins, after a total of 1,14,288 tests were conducted during the day.
The samples collected in Delhi for Covid tests are sent to nearly 10 labs, both government and private, across the capital and also in Noida.
According to data shared by the Delhi government, the Covid-19 positivity rate has increased from 2.7% on 30 March to 10.21 per cent on 10 April.
Delhi reported 11,491 cases and 72 deaths Monday night, according to the daily health bulletin.
Meanwhile, addressing a press conference Tuesday morning, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said another 13,500 cases were reported in the capital. However, the official health bulletin for Tuesday was yet to be released at the time of publishing this report.
The long wait for results
Shalin Singh, 33, a resident of Zamrudpur, near Greater Kailash I, said she got an RT-PCR test done from a government centre in the neighbourhood Friday after her husband, who works at Delhi’s RML hospital, got fever and was tested there. She hadn’t received the results until Monday.
Another Delhi resident, Sahil Kansal, told ThePrint that even government hospitals were taking over 48 hours to release Covid test results. He also took to Twitter to share his grievances.
“My relative called Dr Lal Path Labs repeatedly but received no response from them. She then went to a private nursing home Monday and was told that they couldn’t do more tests that day. So then she went to Lady Hardinge Hospital, but was unable to get an RT-PCR test done there either,” said Kansal, adding that the hospital was overburdened and her turn didn’t come.
Meanwhile, results from another lab, SpiceHealth in Delhi, which on an average receives 25,000 samples a day, are also getting delayed.
Samples collected by government-run testing centres are sent to a combination of private as well government labs for testing. A formal complaint was filed by one of the district authorities in Delhi to Health Minister Satyendra Jain on 10 April, claiming that while SpiceHealth reports were delayed even in March, some of the reports were taking as long as 72 hours now.
Dr B.L. Sherwal, chief of Rajiv Gandhi Super-Speciality Hospital, said government hospitals like theirs, which had testing labs on the campus, were able to release reports within 24 hours. “The problem is for those who have to send their samples to other labs, like SpiceHealth and the one in Noida.”
More samples, overburdened labs
According to private labs, the pressure of providing reports in 24 hours is leading to increased waiting period.
Dr Vishnu Bhasin, director of Bhasin Labs, told ThePrint: “Labs that are catering to more government centres are the ones delaying results, [other] private labs are still releasing reports within 24 hours.”
Most of the private labs ThePrint spoke to said they are testing around 2,000 samples every day on an average — up three times since the first week of April.
“The quantity of supplies have also been limited. Perhaps manufacturers of testing kits also need to scale up their capacity. They’ve also increased the prices of the viral transport medium [VTM, needed for diagnosis] and other basics required for the RT-PCR test kits, which further burdened labs like ours,” added Bhasin.
Some labs have also ordered more machines to meet the growing demand for the daily RT-PCR tests.
Meanwhile, the chairman of a renowned lab in Delhi, told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity: “The ICMR has made the process of data entry so complicated and lengthy that it is impacting the speed at which labs operate.”
He added: “If my staff has to sit and enter 2,000 reports every single day in the portal which takes forever, it becomes difficult to conduct so many tests. The staff has had to undergo training for entering details in the ICMR portal, which has been made even more tedious after questions on whether or not the person has been vaccinated, and more such details, were added.”
Another administrator in a Delhi hospital treating Covid patients, who also did not want to be identified, said: “Every single detail is documented and sent to the authorities concerned, However, it may not be in the format that the government wants because of logistical issues. If you still want to punish well-meaning people for that, then there is nothing we can do about it.”
The Centre’s mobile app and portal, which shares its name with the reverse transcription, polymerase chain reaction, or RT-PCR, which is considered the gold standard for identifying Covid-19 cases, was launched on 30 April last year to remove any discrepancies in sharing of Covid-related data by approved laboratories.
Same-day results are possible only for rapid antigen tests, which take roughly 30 minutes. But even to get these, people are having to wait for over four to six hours.
A 40-year-old resident of Greater Kailash II in Delhi said: “Since there is such a long wait for the RT-PCR test, I thought I’d get a RAT, after our house help tested positive. Even though I didn’t have any symptoms, I thought it safer to get tested.” But even for the RAT, he was told to wait for over four hours, at six labs that he tried to contact in south Delhi.
Dr Arjun Dang, CEO of Dr Dangs Lab, said ramping up manpower and infrastructure to meet the growing demand has always been a priority. “The idea is to do it in a calibrated manner so the quality is not compromised. Our drive-throughs have also been successful wherein we still try to release the reports in 12 hours, while home collection takes longer.”
Testing resumes at metro stations
Meanwhile, Covid testing has resumed at some of the Delhi Metro stations, a DMRC official told ThePrint. The official added that the DMRC was only providing space for the testing, while district officials monitor the kiosks and test reports, keeping in mind the stations that have maximum rush.
“The stations where free Covid-19 testing will be carried out is decided by the district magistrate depending on the stations that remain busy,” he said.
It was first introduced in December last year, when the Delhi government started RAT and RT-PCR testing at metro stations.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)