COVID-19 tests down, need to be scaled up, says government

The Health Ministry directs the States to take stock of medicine, ICU beds, medical equipment, oxygen cylinders and vaccination; it plans a nationwide mock drill on April 10 and 11

Updated - March 26, 2023 10:16 am IST

Published - March 25, 2023 05:07 pm IST - New Delhi

A health worker takes swab sample for a COVID-19 test at an Urban Primary Health Centre in Coimbatore. File

A health worker takes swab sample for a COVID-19 test at an Urban Primary Health Centre in Coimbatore. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The Health Ministry on Saturday warned that at a time when the country was registering a sustained increase in the trajectory of COVID-19 cases (since mid-February) in some States, COVID-19 testing had declined. Worryingly, the current testing levels are insufficient as compared to the standards prescribed by the World Health Organization (WHO) i.e 140 tests/ million.

In its advisory, the Ministry said that testing at the level of districts and blocks also varied, with some States heavily relying on the less sensitive rapid antigen tests.

“It is critical to maintain optimum testing for COVID-19 to identify any emerging hotspots and take pre-emptive steps to curb virus transmission,’’ said the advisory.

Also Read | Explained | Should India worry about rising COVID-19 cases? 

According to the Ministry as on date, most of the active COVID-19 cases in the country were largely being reported by a few States — Kerala (26.4%), Maharashtra (21.7%), Gujarat (13.9%), Karnataka (8.6%) and Tamil Nadu (6.3%).

The Ministry has directed the States to take stock of hospital preparedness including drugs, beds including lCU beds, medical equipment, medical oxygen, capacity building of human resources on existing guidelines, as well as vaccination coverage.

Also Read | After high coverage of primary COVID vaccination, precautionary dose uptake stands at 27%

Nationwide mock drill

Meanwhile, a nationwide mock drill is being planned on April 1O and 11, 2023, wherein health facilities (both public and private) from all districts are expected to participate.

Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan in the advisory, said that while the rates of hospitalisation and death due to the disease remained low largely because of the significant coverage achieved in terms of COVID-19 vaccination rates by all States/ UTs, this gradual rise in cases needed reinvigorated public health actions to contain the surge.

States/ UTs have been asked to keep a close watch on the evolving etiologies (causes of diseases) of influenza-like illness (lLl) and severe acute respiratory illness (SARI) cases.

Giving an insight on the issue of seasonal circulation of pan-respiratory pathogens in the country, the Ministry said that lndia usually saw a seasonal rise in influenza cases from January to March and again from August to October.

Presently, the most prominent subtypes of influenza in circulation in the country seem to be influenza A (H1Nl) and influenza A (H3N2).

Clinical dilemna

It added that COVID-19 and influenza shared a number of similarities in terms of mode of transmission, high risk population, clinical signs and symptoms.

“While this may present a clinical dilemma for the attending doctors in terms of diagnosis, this also renders both these diseases easily preventable by following simple public health measures like avoiding overcrowded and poorly ventilated settings, using handkerchief/ tissue while sneezing or coughing, wearing a mask in crowded and closed settings, maintaining hand hygiene, avoiding spitting in public places etc.,’’ said the Ministry.

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