Delhi to increase COVID-19 testing by 260%

Delhi Government has promised to increase the number of COVID-19 tests to around 18,000 per day from the current level of around 5,000 per day at the all-party meeting held under the leadership of central home minister Amit Shah.

Amit Shah was forced to call the all party meet after the healthcare situation in Delhi reached a point of near collapse, despite the city state having less cases compared to Mumbai.

The state administration led by Arvind Kejriwal has come under severe criticism for bungling the response to the Coronavirus pandemic, even as other hotspots like Chennai and Mumbai have managed to at least keep the healthcare system going despite the rising number of cases.

Delhi government was not allowing people exposed to COVID-19 to test themselves for the virus in Delhi, even at their own cost. Opposition parties allege that this was intended to keep the number of detected cases down.

To make matters worse, even aggravated cases requiring oxygen supply and ventilator support were not being able to find hospital beds.

Many who did manage to find a place in one of the dozens of COVID-19 wards in Delhi hospitals complained of overcharging and negligence.

While COVID-19 patients in most of India are able to get free treatment, they are forced to pay lakhs of rupees in many hospitals in Delhi.

Media reports indicate that a single patient was being charged for up to Rs 48,000 just for PPE kits for a two-day stay in some hospitals.

Some hospitals have also fixed a minimum charge of Rs 3 to 5 lakhs for any COVID-19 patient.

Meanwhile, the number of tests conducted per day was brought down from around 7,600 in late May to around 5,000 by the end of the first week of June.

Part of the reason was a June 2 order by the Delhi administration that said testing not be done for asymptomatic people — even if they were close family members of a COVID positive patient — except if they had comorbidities like heart ailments, or were over the age of 60.

The Delhi government even barred eight labs with a combined testing capacity of 4,000 per day for violating testing norms.

The situation in Delhi led to severe observations from the Supreme Court last week.

Part of the blame for the testing lags belongs to ICMR, tasked with formulating such policies, as it had initially put limits on who can be tested.

However, the organization had, on May 19 allowed even asymptomatic people to be tested if they came into contact with a confirmed case.

However, Delhi government continued to take action against private labs that were testing asymptomatic people who wanted to know if they had COVID-19.

In a June 2 circular, it said that such people should not be tested since they had no symptoms of COVID 19. Across India, all direct contacts — such as family members — of positive cases, are allowed to get themselves checked for the virus.

Forced by the negative media coverage and Supeme Court observations, the central government intervened in the matter over the weekend, and called an all party meet on Delhi’s deteriorating situation today.

The Congress Party asked for ‘testing for all’ at the meeting, and said Rs 10,000 be given to the families of those who had tested positive or were in a containment zone.

Delhi government also faced demands for a cap on the fees that private hospitals and labs can charge for testing and treatment. It is not known if the Delhi government will accede to the same.

Around 16,000 new beds will also be put in place in the coming days, including around 8,000 beds via the conversion of railway coaches.