Patna: After facing flak over the lowest COVID-19 testing rate in the country, Bihar government has doubled its testing in the last seven days. However, the government has not clarified whether the increase accounts for additional reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests or rapid antigen tests.
RT-PCR test is considered the best and accurate method to detect COVID-19. The health experts have repeatedly pointed out in several studies that rapid antigen tests may give false negative results.
With fresh positive cases and deaths continuing to rise in Bihar, the opposition parties have raised concerns over veiling of the data.
Bihar had 62,031 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on August 4 and the total death toll was 336. It reported 2,464 new positive cases on Tuesday. The state has reached 10th position in terms of total number of COVID-19 cases in the country. There are 20,722 active positive cases and the recovery rate is 64.65%.
Opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav has said that the state government is playing a dangerous game with COVID-19 testing figures. “The government has been increasing the testing rate by using rapid antigen tests instead of RT-PCR tests. It has been mainly conducting rapid antigen tests and RT-PCR tests for the name’s sake,” he claimed.
Days after Tejashwi accused the government, the state Health Department’s official update has had no data on the types of tests. Top officials of the Department have refused to share the data other than the updates released once a day: the total number of tests conducted, positive cases and recovery rates.
“We cannot share anything related to different types of COVID testing being conducted. We have been asked not to say anything about the official data related to Covid,” a senior Health Department official said on the condition of anonymity.
Till last week of May, the Department was sharing all the information related to COVID-19 cases; but later changed its data sharing strategy.
Neither Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey nor the Health Department’s Principal Secretary Pratyaya Amrit responded to calls made by this reporter.
According to the official Twitter handle of the Health Department, on August 3, Bihar had tested 36,524 samples—more than double of samples tested on July 28 [16,275].
Health Secretary Lokesh Kumar Singh said it is important that the department has increased testing rate and it will go up further. As of August 4, the state has conducted tests of 6,48,939 samples for COVID-19.
In a bid to increase the testing, the department has extended the facility of home collection of samples for RT-PCR tests through private laboratories in the state. It has fixed a rate of Rs 2,500 plus Rs 300 for home collection.
In Bihar, ICMR has approved three private laboratories and seven government-run laboratories for RT-PCR.
According to the department’s own admission, COVID-19 cases in the state rose by 63% between July 15 and August 1. But the only silver lining is that the positivity percentage has come down from 15.17% on July 15 to 7.75% on August 1.
Dr Sunil Kumar, secretary of Indian Medical Association, Bihar, said that there is no doubt about the fact that testing has increased, but asked for the details of the number of tests conducted under each type. Kumar said that IMA, Bihar has demanded scaling up of testing to 50,000 per day as soon as possible. “Focus should be on remote and far-flung rural areas because reports of the virus spread are coming from there,” he said.
According to Kumar, nearly 200 doctors in Bihar have tested COVID-19 positive and over one dozen died. Taking this into consideration, the government has instructed conducting rapid antigen tests on all general patients before admission in the hospital or clinic.
Singh said the Department has decided to test flood victims staying in flood relief camps and other places using rapid antigen detection kits. He said it will help to isolate the infected people from flood relief camps.
Last month, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had asked concerned officials to test flood victims to detect and identify COVID-19 positive cases to control the spread of virus in rural areas.
As per the official data, 56,53,704 people have been affected by floods in 14 districts of Bihar so far.
The Disaster Management Department on Monday night released these figures, which will be updated on Tuesday night.
The government has evacuated 4,18,490 people till date from marooned villages. Around 17,554 people are living in 19 relief camps set up by the government. But thousands of displaced flood victims have taken shelter on high-rise embankments and National Highways.
The government agencies are running 1,385 community kitchens for displaced flood victims.
Officials say that there have been 13 deaths due to the floods in the state.
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