Kashmir halts sample collection after 5,000 test kits ‘mysteriously’ diverted to Jammu

Updated - June 11, 2020 03:56 pm IST

Published - April 15, 2020 10:51 pm IST -

The Directorate of Health Services (DHS), Kashmir, has stopped taking samples from potentially infected persons in the Valley after a senior health official bypassed directions and diverted a Srinagar-bound consignment of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) allotted five boxes, carrying 5,000 test kits, to Jammu.

Official sources said the alarm was raised by top health officials in Srinagar besides officials in-charge of the COVID-19 crisis in the Divisional Commissioner’s office when a cargo plane arrived in Srinagar on Tuesday morning and failed to deliver the 5,000 testing kits “desperately required in the Valley”.

It was only following the intervention of Chief Secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam that 4,000 test kits were airlifted from Jammu to Srinagar around 4 p.m. on Tuesday. Sources said Jitendra Mehta of the National Health Mission, who advises Divisional Commissioner Pandurang K. Pole on procurements, diverted the testing kits to Jammu. “It’s being looked into if it was a goof-up or a deliberate attempt,” an official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Sources said the bungling in the supply of kits forced the DHS, Kashmir, to stop lifting swabs from suspected COVID-19 cases in the Valley. There is a backlog of some 1,300 samples — about 750 in the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) hospital and about 550 in the Chest Disease Hospital — which are waiting to be tested.

The ICMR, which is rationing the testing kits, has J&K in the bucket two list for reporting a good number of positive cases. The order for supplying testing kits to any State or a Union Territory takes two to three weeks.

An official said the SKIMS refused to take more samples from the DHS due to poor availability of testing kits. The DHS had managed to lift 350 samples, including random cases, from different districts of the Valley but failed to get them tested. At present, Kashmir has capacity for about 200 tests per 24 hours.

Meanwhile, DHS Kashmir, Samir Mattoo, said the aim was to lift 800 samples per day as part of the aggressive sampling process. The DHS has trained 157 lab technicians from all of the Valley’s districts for the purpose. “We want to test more people in order to identify the coronavirus positive patients and isolate them at the earliest,” Dr. Mattoo said.

According to official figures, 55,498 travellers and persons in contact with suspected cases have been put under surveillance in J&K. However, only 4,619 tests had been conducted till April 14.

Kashmir recorded 22 more COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, pushing the total to 300.

“Eighteen fresh cases were detected in Kashmir and four in Jammu region,” said J&K spokesman Rohit Kansal. “All are the contacts of positive cases. The total number of positive cases stand at 300 in J&K, with 54 reported from the Jammu divison and 246 from the Kashmir division,” he added.

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