The Delhi government will increase the working hours of its dispensaries and clinics by two hours so that more Covid-19 tests can be carried out, state health minister Satyendar Jain said on Friday, giving details about how the administration plans to ramp up a process that the chief minister has described as crucial for the city’s fight against the outbreak.
The move was triggered by a consistent rise in the number of cases. The city added the most cases — 1,840 – in 48 days on Thursday. On Friday, this number was slightly lower at 1,808.
After becoming the first major region to register a sustained fall in cases, the national capital has seen an uptick this month, prompting chief minister Arvind Kejriwal to hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday where it was decided that the rate of testing will be doubled from current levels to nearly 40,000 a day in the next week.
“We have asked all our dispensaries and seed PUHC (Primary Urban Health Centre) to start testing patients between 9 am and 2 pm – for five hours instead of three hours it was being done before. This is where the numbers would be scaled up mainly,” Jain said on Friday.
The administration has 265 dispensaries and clinics, in addition to major hospitals it runs.
“All Delhi government hospitals are also testing people for Covid-19 between 9 am and 2 pm. And, it will be free of cost. Anyone can get tested, even if they just suspect that they might have it. Apart from that, testing within the community through mobile vans, camps and in containment zones is happening in addition to this. We have said 40,000 – if each of the fixed centres test 100 people a day, hospitals 200 people a day, and additional tests are done in the community – the numbers are not difficult to achieve,” said Jain.
Shortly after Wednesday’s announcement, government officials said the plan was to increase rapid antigen on-site tests and RT-PCR lab tests proportionally. The lab tests are considered more reliable, but take longer and cost more than the antigen tests. Antigen tests show results within 15-30 minutes, while the lab ones can take up to a day depending on the number of samples and machine capacity.
The minister said the government had enough rapid antigen test kits and the approved laboratories have adequate RT-PCR kits to increase daily testing. On average, 18,361 samples were tested for Covid-19 in Delhi during the last seven days. The positivity rate – the proportion of people who tests positive among those tested – has also gone up through the month from an average of 5.7% during the last week of July to 8% during the last seven days.
The plan to increase testing was briefly the subject of confrontation between the Delhi government and the Union home ministry (MHA). The health minister on Thursday wrote to MHA urging it not to interfere with the Kejriwal government’s decision to double testing. The MHA later tweeted that the allegation was “false and baseless”, prompting Jain to reply in a tweet: “I hope that the officers will comply with this msg from MHA. I am sure that the officers, who were reluctant to increase testing today, citing pressure from MHA, will immediately increase testing in Delhi.”
In a statement, the MHA said that only technical guidance was sought from an expert committee in the note by principal health secretary Vikram Dev Dutt, which was cited by senior government officials to allege pressure from MHA.
A copy of the note accessed by HT says, “Guidance may kindly be sought from the expert committee/ MHA on the following aspects: In light of the current Covid-19 situation and trajectory of cases in Delhi whether scaling up of testing numbers is to be done and if so, to what extent.”