Covid numbers on the rise, but test rates yet to gain momentum

According to Kerala-based Covid data analyst Krishna Prasad NC, very few states publicly share the number of Covid tests they conduct. 
Image used for representation. (File Photo | AP)
Image used for representation. (File Photo | AP)

NEW DELHI: Despite a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases in over three weeks, led by the new JN.1 subvariant, test rates in India are still low, thus failing to give the actual official caseloads in the country. 

Though the centre has issued an advisory to states and union territories to step up testing, keeping in mind the festivities and New Year celebrations as COVID cases are seeing a spike, only a few states, like Kerala, have ramped up testing.

A LocalCircles survey has also shown that Covid tests took a dip this year. The survey, conducted among 24,000 people from 303 districts between November 20 and December 18, showed that only 18 per cent of infected people — or only one in nine persons — especially those with severe symptoms, took the RT-PCR tests. 

According to Kerala-based Covid data analyst Krishna Prasad NC, very few states publicly share the number of Covid tests they conduct. The surge in Covid-19 cases began on November 21, when India reported 23 fresh cases. Since then, India has reported 5,606 cases and 30 deaths, of which 4,776 cases and 17 deaths were from Kerala alone. 

“In Kerala, people voluntarily get themselves tested for Covid-19. That’s why the reporting of cases is high in Kerala,” he added.

According to Dr Rajeev Jayadevan, co-chairman of the National Indian Medical Association’s Covid Task Force, the general public and doctors no longer request Covid tests for people with compatible symptoms. He said that there are many reasons for people not testing, including denial, the sense that Covid is no longer a threat, and a false belief that Covid has gone away.

“It is important to maintain clinical and genomic surveillance even in between successive waves as the virus is continuously making changes to escape human immune response, enabling it to infect large populations repeatedly,” Jayadevan told this paper.

According to Sachin Taparia, founder of LocalCircles, which conducted the survey, with the COVID JN.1 subvariant rising globally and being reported in India too, the risk of late identification in communities is high. 

“The risk (of not taking the test) becomes high if the new JN.1 variant causes severe disease in some individuals, especially senior citizens or those with comorbidities. If that is observed, the government should consider testing all arriving passengers from countries with high caseloads and providing free COVID testing at multiple locations in every district,” he told this paper. 

However, officials said, the government at the moment has no plans to make COVID testing mandatory at the airport.

India recorded 640 fresh cases on Friday, taking the country's COVID-19 tally to 4.50 crore. The death toll has touched 5,33,328 with one more fatality reported from Kerala, as per data from the health ministry. A total of 22 JN.1 Covid variant cases were reported in India till December 21, officials said.

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