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COVID-19: Alarming rise in cases owes to phenomenal increase in testing

All types of permitted tests are now happening extensively and at reasonable prices, thus adding to the COVID numbers, say health experts

While it may be alarming to note that in 110 days, the number of people in India afflicted by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) reached 1 lakh and in 39 days more, it crossed the 5 lakh mark, medical experts say the figure owes to a substantial increase in the number of tests carried out by the authorities. The tests are now happening extensively and at a reasonable price, thus adding to the numbers.

Today, six days after India recorded four lakh infections, the COVID tally has gone past the 5-lakh mark, with the highest single-day surge of 18,552 cases. The death toll has climbed up to 15,685, according to the data of the Union Ministry of Health.

There are now 5,08,953 COVID cases. India recorded 384 deaths in the last 24 hours, the health ministry update at 8 AM showed.

27 June is the fourth consecutive day when COVID spread by more than 15,000. From 1 to 27 June, there has been a surge of 3,18,418 infections. Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh are the worst affected.

In 64 days, COVID cases in India touched the 19 May score of 1 lakh, up from a mere 100 cases. In another fortnight, the number crossed 2 lakh cases on 3 June. In 10 days, the tally touched the 3-lakh mark. In another eight days, the cases climbed to 4 lakh.

The government imposed a nationwide lockdown to check the spread of infections on March 25 for 21 days. The state extended it first till 3 May, then again till 17 May and finally till 31 May.

The lockdown effectively prevails only in containment zones across the country, which will continue till 30 June. The national and state governments now permit a large number of social, economic, religious and sports activities under what the Ministry of Home Affairs calls ‘Unlock 1’.

While the government began ‘unlocking’ the economy out of compulsion, the COVID cases started to increase in leaps and bounds. It is but important to understand the reason for the exponential rise in cases, says Dr Monica Mahajan, Director, Internal Medicine, Max Healthcare. The numbers are doubling at such a fast rate due to factors such as the high reproduction number of the virus (the number of cases, on average, an infected person will cause during their infectious period), she said. Further, with the lifting of lockdown norms, people’s behavioural pattern has changed again as they are not acting as responsibly as before in terms of social distancing, and testing has become more liberal, Mahajan said.

The doctor said the cost of the test had come down and test kits were more easily available; this is leading to more case detections.

Lung surgeon Dr Arvind Kumar said a big reason for cases going up is increased testing definitely.
The percentage of people turning out to be positive from among those tested is going up as the lifting of the lockdown has made people forget social distancing norms. They are out in the streets with scant regard for the pandemic, said Kumar, who works at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) says there has been a cumulative total of 79,96,707 tests till 26 June. As many as 2,20,479 samples were tested on Friday alone, which was the highest in a day since the beginning of the pandemic.

The government has ramped up its testing infrastructure across the country significantly as the ICMR validated 1,007 diagnostic labs. Of these, 734 are in the government sector and 273 in the private sector.

The everyday testing capacity was around 1.4 lakh on 25 May. It is 3 lakh a day now.

There was only one laboratory, the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune and 100 laboratories at the beginning of the lockdown. The ICMR validated the 1,000th testing laboratory on 23 June.

The gold standard test for detecting cases of COVID is the real-time RT-PCR. It takes around 4-5 h on an average from the time of the receipt of a sample to the time of arrival of the result. This requires a specialised laboratory. As a result, every district-level lab, which does not have molecular virology facilities, cannot perform this test, said the ICMR recently.

To make up for the want of such medical infrastructure, the authority has deployed TrueNat and CBNAAT systems to diagnose COVID — in view of the availability of customised cartridges. Besides, the ICMR has approved the use of the rapid-antigen test for COVID. This yields a result in 30 min. The regulator advises carrying out rapid antibody tests only for surveillance purposes.

India reported its first case of coronavirus infection on 30 January in Kerala. The number of active cases is currently 1,97,387. As many as 2,95,880 people have recovered and one patient has migrated. “Thus, around 58.13% of patients have recovered so far,” an official said.

The global pandemic India the worst after the US, Brazil and Russia. Johns Hopkins University, which has been compiling COVID data from all over the world, sys India is at the eighth position in terms of the death toll.

By Samiir Halady

Management graduate, digital strategist, travel enthusiast based in Mumbai

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