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Erratic testing strategy may delay third wave peak in Odisha, warns experts

The Centre has asked the State government to immediately increase the testing in a strategic manner keeping in view the trend of case positivity in specific areas.

Published: 19th January 2022 04:05 PM  |   Last Updated: 19th January 2022 04:05 PM   |  A+A-

Patients with Covid-19 symptoms wait at the Covid Fever Clinic on Capital Hospital premises in Bhubaneswar on Wednesday, Jan 12, 2022

Patients with Covid-19 symptoms wait at the Covid Fever Clinic on Capital Hospital premises in Bhubaneswar (File Photo I Express)

Express News Service

BHUBANESWAR: Even as some of the Covid hotspot states and cities began to show signs of a decline, Odisha continues to throw up over 10,000 cases daily as it is yet to hit a peak, thanks to the erratic testing strategy.

There have been fluctuations in the daily caseload following around 14% dip in the testing numbers in the last week. The number of tests has declined from 81,065 samples on January 12 to 69,502 on Tuesday.

With the third wave taking the state under its grip, the new Covid-19 cases skyrocketed from 424 on January 1 to 11,607 on January 18, the highest single-day total so far this year. The test positivity rate (TPR) also soared from 1.5% to 16.7% during the period.

The drop in testing notwithstanding, the TPR continued to rise. At this juncture when the State should focus on more testing to identify as many new cases and isolate them, the strategy of slashing the number of tests has baffled health experts. They warned the peak may delay if the strategy is not reversed.

The daily case count, which witnessed a marginal drop on January 16 (10,489), rose again the next day due to the fluctuation in the number of tests, which would not only affect the containment measures but also linger the duration of the wave, they claimed.

Former ICMR member and noted microbiologist Dr Tribhuban Mohan Mohapatra said the testing strategy of Odisha has been erratic since the beginning of the pandemic, which is why it had witnessed a plateau for a longer period during the second wave.

"Unlike the second wave, the virus during the third wave is spreading fast due to the super mutant variant Omicron. If the State can conduct as many tests and identify as many cases, it will be better. As soon as it hits the peak, the infection will decline. The sooner the better or else it may face the scenario like last year," Dr Mohapatra warned.

The state health authorities, however, claimed that the number of tests reduced after the new testing guidelines of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) were introduced.

ALSO READ | COVID situation under control in state: Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik

"The tests declined as the guidelines do away with testing of asymptomatic persons on demand, low-risk contacts, and asymptomatic persons undergoing other procedures at hospitals," said Director of Health Services Dr Bijay Mohapatra.

The Centre has, however, flagged the drop in tests by some states, including Odisha, and asked to enhance testing so that an effective track of the spread of the pandemic can be kept and immediate citizen-centric action can be initiated.

Additional Secretary in the Union Health Ministry Arti Ahuja has advised to immediately increase the testing in a strategic manner keeping in view the trend of case positivity in specific areas.

Citing that in all advisories on testing issued by the ICMR, including the latest on January 10, she said the basic objective remains early detection of cases for quick isolation and treatment.

"The testing remains a key strategy for pandemic management as it helps in identification of new clusters and new hotspots of infection which can, in turn, facilitate immediate action for containment such as setting up of containment zones, contact tracing, quarantining, isolation and follow-up. It can also enable the state and district administrations to curb the spread of infection and ensure reduction in mortality and morbidity," Ahuja maintained.

The State reported 11,607 new Covid cases, the highest daily count so far in the third wave, and six deaths in the last 24 hours taking the tally to 11.67 lakh and the death toll to 8494.

The fresh infections in Khurda saw a big jump from 3469 a day back to 4347 on Wednesday. Among other districts, Sundargarh recorded 1219 cases, followed by 898 in Cuttack, 390 in Sambalpur, 305 in Balasore, 229 each in Rayagada and Balangir. The active cases stood at 84,770.

R-value all-time high in Odisha

Odisha's effective reproduction number (R-value) for Covid-19 has increased to 4.19, the highest since the pandemic first hit the State in March 2020.

R-value is an indicator of how fast the infection is spreading and it represents the average number of people likely to catch the disease from one infected person.

A majority of the districts recorded unprecedented R values during the first fortnight of the month. Sundargarh topped the chart with 8.68, followed by Sambalpur (6.8), Kalahandi (6.3), Nayagarh (5.2), Ganjam (3.9), Balasore (3.8), Cuttack (3.7), and Khurda (3.6).

The reproduction number has, however, come down to 2.03 in Sundargarh and one in Sambalpur during the January 12-16 period indicating that the infection count would decline in the districts.

A researcher at the Indian Institute of Mathematical Sciences Prof Sitabhra Sinha, who has been tracking R values since the beginning of the pandemic, said the cases will rise in the districts where the value is in increasing trend.

"The next fortnight is crucial for the State," he said and suggested focusing on testing, tracking, and isolation strategy.



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