Representational image. | Image Courtesy: Pixabay
Patna: Bihar has failed to ramp up testing for the novel coronavirus, despite the fact that cases of COVID-19 are rising and the infection has spread to all 38 districts in the state.
This reality is evident on the ground with the state having no designated green zones at the moment. Till date, Bihar, with an estimated population of nearly 12 crore, has tested less than 50,000 samples, a number which includes the random sampling of migrant workers. Bihar has one of the lowest testing rates in the country since the lockdown began on March 25.
According to a tweet posted by Sanjay Kumar, the Principal Secretary of the state Health Department – as of May 18, about 48,488 samples have been tested including 2,024 on Sunday (May 17), while 3,300 samples are under processing on Monday. The state had tested 2,066 samples on Saturday and 1,182 on Friday.
All the tests are being conducted at seven government-run test facilities approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). Keeping the lack of testing facilities at government laboratories in mind, the state government has approved two private laboratories to test samples for COVID-19. However, private laboratories have failed to help the state in speeding up the rate of testing since they have not begun testing yet.
More than a week after Chief Minister Nitish Kumar directed the health department to make arrangements for scaling up testing to 10,000 samples per day, up from the current average of about 2000 samples per day, there has been no improvement.
A senior official from the health department told NewsClick that there is a shortage of facilities, kits and other basic requirements to speed up the testing rate. “We are trying our best to increase the testing rate of coronavirus samples but a lack of adequate facilities and resources are the main problem. We cannot test more than what is our capacity at the moment,” said the official, who wished to remain anonymous.
The official pointed that the shortage of testing cartridges forced authorities to stop testing of coronavirus samples at the government-run Jawahar Lal Nehru Medical College and Hospital in Bhagalpur district last week. As JLNMCH was using cartridge based nucleic acid amplification test machines and kits imported for the test, it will take some time to resume testing. Testing stopped at the centre barely a week after it began, and has affected the numbers in Bhagalpur and its neighbouring districts.
“The central government had assured to provide 500 cartridges to Bihar for testing purposes but is yet to send it. Bihar has placed an order to purchase 5,000 cartridges,” the official added.
The state government has repeatedly demanded more testing kits and cartridges from the Centre but they have not been provided as yet. CM Nitish Kumar had also asked for the same earlier in May during the video conference with Prime Minister Modi, keeping the situation of the migrant influx in mind.
As per official data from the government, Bihar had 24,000 Viral Transport Medium kits (VTM) that are used to collect samples to test for COVID-19, and about 2,500 RNA Extraction Kits in stock, as of May 12.
State health officials said that earlier, ICMR had been supplying kits for testing and that the state government had also purchased kits and RNA extractors from a Singapore-based firm.
According to data from the health department, testing had increased from May 8. As per official figures, Bihar had tested 581 samples on May 5, and seven persons had tested positive from the samples tested. On May 6, 596 samples were tested and seven persons tested positive. The government tested 609 samples the next day, and 29 were positive for COVID-19. On May 8, the state had tested 1075 samples and 32 persons tested positive. A total of 1,388 samples were tested on May 9, and 52 samples were positive. On May 10, about 1,907 samples were tested, and of these, 89 tested positive. On May 11, 2027 samples were tested and 54 came positive for COVID-19. Similarly, on May 12, 1927 samples were tested and 118 samples tested positive for the disease.
On May 15, Bihar had tested 1,182 samples while on May 14, it had tested 1,997 samples.
As of Monday afternoon, Bihar had 1392 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 72 new cases on May 18. About 147 cases were reported on Sunday, 99 cases on Saturday and 80 cases on Friday.
As of May 18, more than six lakh migrant workers had arrived in over 400 special trains to Bihar from outside states, mainly Gujarat, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Karnataka, Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. More migrant workers are likely to reach Bihar in over 300 more special trains in the coming days.