Low testing in initial stages may have led to Covid-19 surge: Panel

The parliamentary standing committee of health submitted its report on India’s response to the coronavirus disease pandemic on Saturday, appreciating the role of the 68-day lockdown in slowing the spread of the virus, criticising the initial shortage of equipment and infrastructure, and stressing the importance of being ready for a possible second wave of the infection.

The multi-party committee of Indian Parliament said “poor contact tracing and less testing” might have led to the exponential growth of Covid-19 cases in the country, adding that a multitude of advisories may have led to confusion.

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The standing committee on health presented its report—the first from a parliamentary committee on Covid—on a day when the total cases in India touched 9,095,782, with 133,262 deaths, and even as Delhi reels under a fresh surge of infections.

The panel pointed out “few glaring lapses” such as “shortage of emergency supplies, red-tapism, shortage and quality of testing kits, and delay in domestic production” and said India must also be prepared to tackle a possible second wave of Covid—as evident in many European countries—especially in the winter season and “superspreading series of festive-events”.

On November 21, HT wrote about the imminent onset of the second wave.

The committee blamed poor contact tracing and inadequate testing for the exponential growth of cases in the country. HT repeatedly pointed this out in the initial months of the pandemic. It was only in August that India became aggressive with its testing. However, even then, many of the tests were conducted using rapid antigen testing kits, which are unreliable, a fact that didn’t escape the panel’s notice. The committee said it is worried at the use of “less reliable diagnostic tests which increase the chances of false negatives.” Rapid antigen tests sometimes fail to identify 50% of infections. It added that RT-PCR tests remain the gold standard .

Panel chairman, Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav, virtually presented the report to Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu on Saturday.

The report said the Covid would have hit India harder if “we had not hit the history books for guidance”.

It termed janta curfew on March 22, the marathon federal lockdown, the phased and gradual reopening, travel restrictions and social distancing measures as “successful” but observed “there have been few glaring lapses like shortage of emergency supplies, red-tapism, shortage and quality of testing kits, delay in domestic production etc.”

The report also added that a “plethora of guidelines issued by the ministry” for containment of outbreak “caused ambiguity in interpretation”. “The contradiction in guidelines and the resultant chaos among the general masses could have been averted” and “the separate guidelines on the quarantine issue by different State Governments created more panic and confusion” it said.

The parliamentary panel also expressed concern that “the total number of government hospital beds in the country was grossly inadequate” in the wake of rising incidence of Covid-19 cases.

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