The path has been cleared for designated private laboratories to start offering tests for COVID-19, but they have a new problem on their hands: logistics. Public transport services in major metros of India are shut down. Local trains and metro services in Delhi, Kolkata and Hyderabad are under lockdown. This situation is likely to persist till March 31. This poses the question as to how do laboratories get the samples from hospitals and have their staff report to work. This has emerged as a common problem across some of the labs that fit the government criteria of being NABL accredited with BSL-2 safety standards and a RT PCR testing capability.
Most of the establishments that Business Today spoke to anonymously said they have ordered the kits and are ready to start offering the testing facility but face the challenge of logistics. Most of the private laboratories do not have quarters to house their staff and most need to travel long distance, especially in bigger metros.
A senior doctor at one of the testing laboratories in Mumbai said that they have received the kits but local train services will be shut down and their staff will not be able to come as most of them stay in the suburbs. With a precarious staff situation there will be a challenge while starting this testing activity, he further said. "At the moment, the private labs logistically will find it very challenging," pointed out a senior doctor in another lab. Though these laboratories come under essential services, if the local trains do not run in a city like Mumbai, then it is impossible for people to move around. Around 40 lakh people are dependent on local train services in the city.
In terms of the cost of the tests, the private laboratories point out that while the government has capped it at Rs 4,500 per test, it is meant to ensure that the private labs do not incur a loss. However, if the government were to provide them free kits then they would be in a position to offer it free of charge. The cost per test apparently includes all the components, including the cost of preliminary test, then that of a confirmatory test, cost of protective gear and masks apart from the transport costs for technicians.