PUNE: Mandating a molecular (RT-PCR) test for individuals involved in providing essential services is going to strain the laboratories and force a sizable chunk to bear the cost of testing, laboratory experts fear.
“This move will add up the pressure further and may even stretch the turnaround time,” a virologist from a private laboratory in the city said on the condition of anonymity.
Aprivate Covid testing facility that was conducting 700 home-based collections during the initial phases of the pandemic is currently doing 1,000 home visits for swab collection a day. Besides, the facility tackles 1,000 walk-in tests.
“A single laboratory is handling a load of 2,000 RTPCR tests a day. There are 25 private labs in Pune city,” said another lab expert. The Covid testing labs are more in the private than the public sector. “Hence, the diktat is likely to force people to make out of the pocket expenditure. This is because there are only three state-run laboratories in Pune, where Covid testing is free of cost. There are 25 private labs in the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) limits, where one has to bear the expense,” a PMC health official said.
Sassoon hospital tests 2,000 samples a day. Besides, the National Institute of Virology and the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research test 250 samples each. “That means of the 20,000 samples tested in the PMC limits every day, only 3,000-4,000 tests are carried out by government labs. The remaining 16,000 tests are carried out by private labs. This clarifies the financial burden on people,” said another lab expert.
Senior epidemiologist Amitav Banerjee said, “RTPCR test has its issues. Even dead virus particles can be picked up as false positives by RT-PCR days and weeks after recovery from infection. But these persons are not infectious.”
When contacted, Pune divisional commissioner Saurabh Rao told TOI, “We have enough capacity to conduct tests, especially since the state order does not direct these tests to be conducted every day. Two options have been given, vaccinate people aged 45 years and above or conduct RT-PCR tests for those not in the category.”
He added, “We have to understand the basic philosophy behind the order. For instance, when Chakan opened up last year, many industries faced the challenge of numerous employees contracting Covid after restrictions were lifted. We just want to avoid any such situation. Instead of shutting the industries and businesses to break the chain of infection, it is necessary to follow the newly released safety protocols.”