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NEW DELHI : The government has failed to reach its target of 4.5-5 million covid-19 tests per day, which it wanted to achieve by the end of June. After reaching 1 million tests per day in December 2020, the rate dropped in January 2021 to only 400,000 per day, with a positivity of 1.9%.

After the second wave, testing again increased to 1.9-2 million and this showed a positivity of 15-17%. Since then, the rate of testing has decreased steadily in June, July and August from 1.8 million to 1.7 million to 1.6 million tests and now averaging to 1.2 million a day.

Although the number of coronavirus cases is gradually coming down and vaccination numbers are up, testing remains important in containing the disease and authorities have been telling states to do more testing in high burden areas.

Public health experts have warned that if testing is not ramped up, India may see a resurgence in cases and further spread as the disease will remain untraced.

“When the number of tests per day started decreasing in June, July, August from 1.8 million to 1.7 million to 1.6 million tests, the positivity also dropped to 3.4% to 2.8% to 2.2%. Currently, India is doing an average of 1.5 million tests per day with an average of 27,000 cases per day at the positivity of 2.13% which is still above 2%," said Balaji S. Reddie, assistant professor of operations at Pune’s Balaji Institute of Modern Management. By September 2020, India had built up a capacity of conducting 1 million tests per day which continued till December 2020, Reddie said after analysing the testing trajectory.

“The cases now stood at 26,000 per day at a positivity of 2.6 %. This is where complacency set in. Instead of consolidating and retaining this rate of testing, the testing rate dropped in January 2021 to 700,000 per day, at times dropping to 400,000 per day. Fortunately, the cases stood at 15,000 cases per day at a positivity of 1.9%," he said.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) had said in May that the government aims to increase testing to 4.5 million a day by the end of June from then 1.6-2 million tests each day. ICMR had also approved home-based rapid antigen testing (RAT) kits.

“Currently there are 280,000 active cases. It is recommended that 2 million tests be conducted per day from now on. If the positivity drops to levels in February by then, the number of cases would be 30,000 to 35,000 cases," Reddie said.

At least 18,870 new coronavirus cases were reported in the past 24 hours. The past 24 hours saw a total of 1.5 million covid-19 tests being conducted. India has so far conducted over 567 million tests.

“As the number of covid-19 cases is less, the number of close contacts of cases being traced is also going down. There is no problem in availability or access of covid-19 testing in the country. We have asked the states to ramp up testing in the districts where the cases are higher," a spokesperson for ICMR told Mint.

Private laboratories too are witnessing fall in testing numbers. “If we look at our last three months covid-19 testing numbers, our overall numbers have reduced compared to April and May and is gradually declining. However, we are witnessing surges in some parts of the country like Kerala and Eastern India where the testing volumes have increased. The decline is primarily in clinical testing numbers and this could be due to the enhanced vaccination drive and reducing fear among the general public," said Anand K, CEO - SRL Diagnostics.

"Having said that, with the opening up of elective surgeries, we are getting more and more samples from Hospitals. Regular and continuous testing is one of the most secure ways to reopen international travel and workplaces at this moment. As a result, we are seeing more and more people opting for testing for travel and to return back to work," he said.

According to Arjun Dang, CEO, Dr Dangs lab, with monsoons bringing in the emergence of non-covid viral illnesses such as Dengue, flu etc, a shift of focus akin to the pre pandemic scenario may make people feel falsely secured.

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