Private labs seek antigen test ban lift as demand soars

People approach private hospitals to undertake these tests which give quicker results; at least 1,000 labs, collection centres affected
Image used for representational purpose only.
Image used for representational purpose only.

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: While the health department is dragging its feet on lifting the ban on private laboratories conducting rapid antigen tests (RAT), such tests have become common in hospitals and by way of self-testing kits. As self-testing antigen kits have turned out to be popular, the government has repeatedly cautioned the public against the practice, highlighting accuracy issues associated with such tests.

Antigen tests offer a faster and cheaper option for Covid tests. It was widely used in the state during the first two waves. The government had also put a price cap — Rs 300 — for the test. But last September, it placed a ban on antigen tests except during medical emergencies. While the testing norms have become flexible in the third wave, private lab owners question the continuation of the ban.

“There is high demand from people who want to do antigen tests for quicker results. They are uncomfortable with the self-testing kits available in shops. So they go to private hospitals to test, while the same business opportunity is denied to us,” said C Balachandran, president, Medical Laboratory Owners’ Association.

He said the ban has affected close to 1,000 labs and collection centres. The ban has also affected small clinics, including dental clinics. “We used to depend on private labs to conduct Covid tests on our patients. Now some of the patients have moved to larger hospitals that conduct antigen tests too,” said Rajesh R, a dentist in Thiruvananthapuram.

Under the purposive testing strategy, non-vaccinated people with comorbidities should take the RT-PCR test. Even for hospital admission, only the symptomatic patients have to conduct the test.Yet the proportion of antigen tests has almost doubled from January 1. Health department data shows at least 50,000 antigen tests are done in the state every day.Health experts had asked the government to bring back antigen testing before the onset of the third wave.

“We have been successful in using RAT in our testing strategy. The RT-PCR only strategy was thrust on us by the central government,” said a member of the state Covid management committee.

 Last September, the government placed a ban on antigen tests except during medical emergencies
 Health department data reveals at least 50,000 antigen tests are done in the state every day

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The New Indian Express