Stop random testing, focus on symptomatic persons: TAC

BBMP health workers collecting swabs for COVID-19 testing at Krantiveera Sangolli Rayanna Railway station in Bengaluru.

BBMP health workers collecting swabs for COVID-19 testing at Krantiveera Sangolli Rayanna Railway station in Bengaluru.

With the pandemic raging like wildfire across the country and the Indian Council of Medical research (ICMR) advising States on purposive testing for COVID-19, Karnataka’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) has recommended that the State should go slow on testing. The committee has also advised the State to stop random testing and focus only on symptomatic persons.

Although the TAC has advised that the daily number of tests should be around 1.5 lakh in the State (75,000 in Bengaluru and 75,000 in rest of Karnataka), over two lakh tests are being conducted daily from January 18 onwards. Sources in the TAC said increasing the daily tests at this stage when the transmission is very high is nothing but suicidal.

TAC chairman M.K. Sudarshan told The Hindu on Saturday that at this juncture of the pandemic, testing asymptomatic persons (except those at high risk based on age and comorbidities) and doing random testing is not purposive and helpful.

“By testing around 2.25 lakh samples per day, we are only labelling asymptomatic infections as cases, and inflating the number of cases. By increasing daily tests now we will only be dragging the wave and delaying the peak. We have also told the Chief Minister about the need to slow down testing during our recent meeting with him. This will be in line with the ICMR advisory,” he said.

“Despite the surge, there is no demand for hospital beds, oxygen and ICU facilities. Now, the rate of hospitalisation is the yardstick for imposing restrictions and not the weekly test positivity rate. There is no need to test everyone and random testing of people should stop. This is because almost all will get infected but very few will develop complications similar to tuberculosis, which is also a respiratory infection. Although almost all will get the infection very few will develop the disease,” he said.

Recently, the ICMR issued an advisory on ‘Purposive Testing Strategy for COVID-19’ that said contacts of COVID-19 patients do not need to be tested unless identified as high risk based on age and comorbidities.

According to the advisory, asymptomatic patients undergoing surgical or non-surgical invasive procedures, including pregnant women in/near labour who are hospitalised for delivery, should not be tested unless warranted or symptoms develop. It said no emergency procedure, including surgeries, should be delayed due to lack of a test. Besides, inter-State travellers also need not be tested.

Mixed reactions

The advisory evoked mixed views from COVID-19 experts in the State. While some experts said the advisory is against the basic principle of containing the pandemic, some termed it as a practical piece of guideline, specific to the Omicron variant.

This is in contrast to the testing strategy recommended during the second wave. In August last year, when restrictions were eased, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai had made it clear that restrictions will have to be reimposed and school reopening will have to be put off in districts where the test positivity rate rises above 2%. Following this, district authorities were compelled to conduct more COVID tests to keep the TPR under 2%.

Although a target of 1.5 lakh had been fixed, the number of daily tests had reduced in September, 2021 ranging between 79,000 and 1.6 lakh. On October 10, the TAC had recommended revision of testing targets keeping in mind the Test Positivity Rate (TPR), seven-day average of effective Reproduction Number (Rt No.) and ensuing fairs and festivals in October-November.

Recommending a total daily target of 1.1 lakh till November, the TAC has suggested that 50,000 tests should be done daily in Bengaluru and 60,000 in the rest of Karnataka. Half of the 60,000 tests should be in border districts, the TAC recommended. Despite a decline in new cases, daily tests had remained around one lakh as per the revised testing targets till December.

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Printable version | May 18, 2022 10:38:47 am |