BHUBANESWAR: Even as the daily Covid count has dropped below 500 in Odisha, the reduced tests leading to rise in test positivity rate (TPR) has prompted the Centre to direct the states to increase testing and limit the use of rapid antigen tests (RATs).
In a joint letter, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan and Secretary (Health Research) Dr Balram Bhargava have expressed reservations about excessive use of RATs and asked states to restrict the use of the rapid tests to only 30 to 40 per cent of the total Covid-19 tests.
RATs must not take precedence over RT-PCR tests, considered as gold standard, and antigen tests should be used for diagnosis of pre-symptomatic or early symptomatic individuals where the viral load is expected to be high, they have directed.
While the testing has reduced significantly over the last one week following the decline in new cases, over 85 per cent of tests conducted in Odisha are RATs. From over 40,000 tests a day in the initial days of the month, the number of tests has now come down to sub-30,000 range.
An analysis revealed, with an average of 36,800 tests a day, the State has conducted 4,04,804 tests till December 11. As many as 4,261 new cases were detected during the period and the average was 387 a day. The TPR rose from 0.95 per cent (pc) on December 5 to 1.22 pc on December 10.
“We have been constantly demanding to increase the RT-PCR tests as RATs are prone to false negatives. Though protocol mandates that all RAT negative samples from symptomatic people must be retested using PCR, it is not being adhered to. Antigen tests can miss an infection in over 50 pc cases and the quality of kits has always been an issue,” pointed out senior epidemiologist Dr Tribhuban Mohapatra.
Health officials said the Centre’s direction is not applicable to states like Odisha where the disease is under control. Additional Chief Secretary of Health department PK Mohapatra said the districts have been directed to focus more on RT-PCR tests and not to limit it below 7,500 tests a day.
“As per the decision taken at the weekly review on Friday, six directors and as many additional directors will monitor the testing in 30 districts. We will take further decision on reducing RATs after January 15,” he added.