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Testing numbers absent from Delhi’s daily coronavirus bulletin despite HC order & case surge

Absence of testing data despite HC orders raised concerns among health experts after Delhi registered sharpest-ever single-day spurt of cases Wednesday and the figure went up further Thursday.

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New Delhi: The Delhi government is yet to resume releasing Covid-19 test numbers in its daily health bulletins, four days after the Delhi High Court ordered it to do so.

Until 29 April, the daily Covid-19 health bulletins issued by the Arvind Kejriwal government included explicit testing numbers that stated the number of tests conducted by government and private agencies, while also specifying the pendency. But the data has been missing from the bulletins issued since.

After an advocate, Rakesh Malhotra, approached the Delhi High Court with a PIL on the matter, the court, on 4 May, directed the state government to update its website with the correct number of tests, including those pending. 

The continued absence of testing data despite court orders raised concerns among health experts after Delhi registered its sharpest-ever single-day spurt of cases Wednesday, with 428 new cases. The new cases figure rose even further, to 448, Thursday.  

Experts and even the government itself have been worried that delayed contact tracing, which they believe is a result of heavy pendency at labs, may be weakening the national capital’s bid to contain Covid-19. 

If a Covid-19 patient is diagnosed late, it increases the chances of them infecting others. In the absence of vaccination or a sure-shot cure, quarantining active patients is believed to be the only way to control Covid-19, which has killed 66 people in Delhi so far.

ThePrint made multiple attempts, through calls and texts over 24 hours, to contact Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain and the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) office for comment but got no response. 

Delhi Health Secretary Padmini Singla refused to comment. However, Nutan Mundeja, the Director General Health Services for the Delhi government, said the high court’s “directions are being followed from what I know”. 

“The testing and cases are carefully monitored and a report is shared with the CM every night. So the person who needs to know, knows,” she added.

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Delayed results

The PIL filed in the high court claimed that the Delhi government was not taking enough measures to furnish reports on Covid-19 and suspected patients within “a reasonable time of 48 hours”, leading to delay in contact tracing.

The number of swabs pending for tests in Delhi, it added, had gone up by seven times to 3,295 on 29 April from 470 on 1 April.  

The Delhi government’s lawyer, Satyakam, had told the court Wednesday that 3,790 tests were pending with private and government laboratories until Sunday evening. 

The maximum pendency, he added, was at the National Institute of Biologicals (NIB), Noida, a government lab where Delhi had sent close to 11,000 samples.

However, the petition cites a Delhi government order dated 29 April, issued by secretary, health and family welfare, which claims the state government decided on 22 April to not send any samples to NIB until 3 May because the lab was taking up to 15 days to forward reports. 

In its order, the high court said “the Delhi government shall continue updating its website on a regular basis to reflect the number of tests that are being conducted for COVID-19 in Delhi, mention the number of cases that are positive or negative, and state the number of results that are pending after the tests are conducted”. 

The order also directs the Kejriwal government “to ensure that the samples that are furnished to the accredited labs… and reports forwarded with a period of 24/48 hours”. 

The delay in testing results also came up in a video conference between Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain and Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan last week as the former sought to explain the surge in cases in the national capital. 

Delhi is testing close to 2,800 people per million of the population population, a rate higher than states like Maharashtra (1,237). 

According to Delhi government data, 77,234 tests have been conducted so far.

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