Although the government has approved 35 private laboratories to conduct Covid-19 testing, they fear the stock may not last longer than a week as getting the kits - both domestic and imported - has been an uphill task. If the new stock of kits doesn't come in, testing and the results will get delayed, they say, adding that the government must ensure the supply of kits to is ramped up quickly.
"We have procured kits from Pune and it was a logistics nightmare spread over three to four days," says a senior doctor in one of the laboratories in Delhi. It had partly to do with lockdown and transport shut down and in the case of import, hassles around custom clearances. The solution, he says, is having at least one cargo flight from metros such as Pune and Mumbai, flying out at a stipulated hour each day and carrying things such as testing kits or reagents or medicines and even PPEs (personal protective equipment), which some labs say is also in short supply.
In fact, the short-supply of PPE is fast emerging as a big problem confronting laboratories nationally, especially those collecting samples from home. In a hospital set-up, a PPE can be used for one shift but in case of home visits, each PPE needs to be discarded after every visit. The other suggestion is to increase the frequency of cargo flights from major Indian metros. Or, the ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) could itself take up the procurement of the kits and supplying them to the laboratories. Some are also complaining of orders being placed with kit-makers but despite the claims of the kit-maker that it can supply in large numbers, they are not able to make it possible and some have to still wait for delivery expected next week.
Talk to kit manufacturers about the possible solution from their end, they say they can either ramp up the production capacity or increase the pack size. It means every box of testing kit is able to handle more number of tests. German kit maker Altona, for instance, seems to be working on the lines of supplying pack sizes that can handle 4,800 tests against 384 or 96 tests per kit that most talk about. This could sharply improve the testing ability of labs even with a fewer kits. For instance, even 10 such kits would mean close to 50,000 tests.
Another concern is dealing with false positive cases that some have encountered. Fortunately, there is a government regulation that requires the labs to send reports to NIV, Pune or in view of the lockdown, to local government establishments such as Kasturba hospital in Mumbai to get the tests rechecked. This is a well thought out measure as it will ensure that all results are without error even if there are delays in getting the final result.
There is another issue of getting manpower to work and to collect the samples in a lockdown situation. This is a big challenge especially in cities like Mumbai.
Besides, one ugly and worrying side of the unfolding corona pandemic story is that of medical practitioners - doctors , nurses, technicians and paramedics, facing a new form of social distancing. Doctors talk of apartments and housing societies beginning to resent the presence of doctors, technicians and paramedics. "On one hand you clap for us and on the other hand slap us by resenting our presence in apartment complexes," says a doctor with a palpable sense of anguish.