NEW DELHI: Chhattisgarh will start pool sample testing for COVID-19 in a couple of days, state's Health Minister T S Singh Deo said on Friday, while ruing the Modi government's "conservative" testing strategy instead of an "aggressive" approach, which would have put the country in a much better position to fight the pandemic.
In an interview to PTI, Deo also said the Chhattisgarh government is in the process of procuring 75,000 rapid testing kits on its own and has also asked the Centre for providing some.
"We have re-tendered for 75,000 kits on Thursday.
We have also appealed to the Central government (for giving us kits) which I hear is to get a tranche of about 6,40,000 kits from abroad.
Chhatisgarh is one of those states where we don't have even a single kit today," Deo said.
The Centre is likely to send rapid testing kits to the state by Saturday, he said.
However, he was not aware of the number being sent.
He also asserted that the personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical personnel, including doctors and nurses, dealing directly with COVID-19 patients was in short supply.
On the state set to adopt pool testing, Deo said, "We were one of those states asking for it.
On Tuesday, the ICMR cleared this.
We have talked to the laboratories at AIIMS and the medical college (Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru Memorial Medical College) in Raipur.
They are in agreement that they will be able to do it," he said.
AIIMS Raipur has a capacity of 350-400 sample tests in a day and with pool testing it can go up to 2,000, while the Raipur medical college has about 100-120 samples capacity which would be able to go up to 500-600 in a day, he said, adding that "the pool testing would start within a day or two.
" Pooling of samples involves testing them in batches and when pooled sample tests positive, then individual samples are assessed.
Pool testing reduces the number of test kits used, and therefore, increases testing capacity.
Asked about former Congress president Rahul Gandhi's assertion on ramping up testing, Deo said it has to be the way forward because if one is not testing aggressively then it is like being in a "dark room" and working on speculation.
He said different protocols are being followed around the world and while one advocated a lockout, the other was testing and regulating movement.
"Between South Korea and India, South Korea has tested about 7,000 per million, while India, I don't think it would have touched even 200 per million, so that is the gap. It is easier not to have a lockdown if you have a more aggressive testing protocol.
Then you are more aware of where to prevent people from moving around and where to allow people to be much freer to move around," Deo said.
"The testing protocol (adopted by the Centre) was very conservative.
The entire testing protocol in the country was with only one facility initially, NIV (National Institute of Virology), Pune.
Now we have 220 labs.
So either the government was not prepared or not planning," he alleged.
Deo said that selective testing created a "big gap" between the asymptomatic population and those tested, and that was one of the reasons for the spread of the virus.
On Chhattisgarh having fewer number of cases and zero death, the minister said the key was that the state started preparations early and then luck also played its part.
"We did start early, that is true.
We started on January 27 by putting in the rapid task force headed by the district collectors so that the inter-department coordination would be there as just the health department would not have been able to ensure compliance (of protocols) beyond a point," he said.
"We are fortunate to have had only 33 cases, so I would give a lot to chance, a lot to luck, maybe our people have been alert.
We have had a large population that has been under quarantine, Wednesday's figures were 94,795 in home quarantine and 242 in government quarantine facilities," he said.
Malls, cinema halls, and other business institutions were also asked to regulate activities or close down early in the state, he said.
"Between January 27 to March 24, we had tried to put an administrative system in place which had identified COVID dedicated facilities and training of manpower .
We started screening people coming in at the airport from January 28," he said.
"It was very difficult at the bus stand and railway stations so we went for hoardings, billboards and jingles (for COVID-19 precautions).
The idea was to educate the people because from day one it was absolutely clear that there was no cure, no medicine, that we could provide to the people," he said.
The government had to try and contain the virus' spread, he added.
According to the state government, there were 33 cases of coronavirus, out of which 23 people have been discharged or cured and there have been zero fatalities due to the pandemic in the state.
The death toll in the country due to COVID-19 has risen to 437 and the number of total cases to 13,387 on Friday, according to the Union health ministry.
The minister also said there was no early standardisation of the PPE kits for COVID-19 and the Indian Council of Medical Research ( ICMR) published its standard for such kits only on March 24.
"We had placed our orders on March 5 for PPEs to government subsidiary HLL for 7,000 kits and subsequently for another 7,000 kits on March 16.
Out of those 14,000 kits we ordered, the firm could supply us only 3,000," Deo said.
These items are in short supply and it is not clear to manufacturers in the country as to what standard of PPE kits they have to supply for COVID-19, the senior minister in the Chhattisgarh government said.
Asserting that the pandemic should serve as a wake up call for governments across the globe and they should commit at least 3 percent of the GDP to the health sector, he said there must be a sustained investment in the public health sector, he said.
Deo also said the state government has asked the Centre for an automated DNA/RNA machine for sample procurement, noting that currently it is being done on a manual basis.
If they provide us with this machine then the capacity doubles, the minister added.