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Revised RT-PCR cost, festival season likely to reduce Covid-19 testing – gurugram

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The Haryana health department’s decision to slash the Covid-19 testing cost to the lowest in the National Capital Region (NCR) may impact the overall testing rate in Gurugram, said representatives of private labs in the city. According to such labs, revised testing rates are unviable as it would eventually affect the process of sample collection. This is likely to be further impacted by the festival season, as many people might not turn up for testing due to festive fervour.

Representatives of private labs on Friday approached the district health department to reconsider the revised testing cost. Haryana government on Thursday had brought down the cost of Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test to ₹900 from ₹1,200 and antigen test to ₹500 from ₹650.

Private labs submitted a presentation to the chief medical officer (CMO) seeking reconsideration on the decision. “One of the prominent labs has even given in writing hat they won’ t conduct RT-PCR below ₹1,200,” said Dr Virender Yadav,CMO.

“Private labs want the decision to be reconsidered by the state. They think it is unviable as it does not cover the total cost incurred in conducting the RT-PCR test. Since Covid-19 cases are rapidly rising, we have asked them to continue with tests and increase the volume,” said Yadav.

Presently, there are six labs in Haryana approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) for Covid-19. Nearly five Delhi-based laboratories have tied up with Gurugram hospitals for Covid-19 sample collection.

Impact on testing

Earlier, private labs had expressed similar concerns when the state health department brought down the price from ₹1,600 to ₹1,200 in the first week of October. They complained that the revised charges did not cover the cost of ambulance, and consumables, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), and the cost of the kit used for testing.

State health officials, however, have been saying the overall charge of conducting an RT-PCR test has been reduced taking into account several factors, besides the consent of the leading private laboratories. As per the orders issued by the state till now, testing charges include the cost of sample pick-up, packing, transportation of samples, documentation and reporting.

“There are various associated costs with home collection which can’t be covered at the revised price. These include cost of sample collection, transport, logistics, skilled personnel and safety requirements like PPE kits among other. This makes home collection unviable in the current scenario,” said Mr Anand K, CEO, SRL Diagnostics.He said, “We will, however, continue to provide service to Gurugram customers through our drive-thru facility in Sector 29 and patient service centre in Sector 14 and DLF Phase-1,” said Anand.

A doctor from private lab privy to the matter, who preferred anonymity, said, “The health department has asked to increase the testing despite the price cut. A peak in cases is expected next month. To handle the situation, we have been told to carry on with testing and make appropriate arrangements. We are working on our agreement with vendors who supply kits and reagents for tests. Testing can be increased once those terms are realigned.”

Going by the health bulletin data, private labs and a government lab in Sector 10 together conduct more than 3,000 tests on an average every day. Of these, more than 85% is administered through RT-PCR, while the remaining tests are conducted through rapid antigen test. It is in the last two days rapid antigen testing has come down to less than 300. On Friday, a total 3,040 tests were administered, out of which 2,755 were RT-PCR and 285 antigen tests. According to Yadav, nearly 1,000-1,200 samples are collected in the government set up, while remaining in private diagnostics.

Covid-19 peak

Although labs are advised to ramp up testing, Yadav said that due to the festival season, testing can come down. “We are concerned that after Diwali there can be peak around November 20-21. The people might refrain from getting tested during the festival, the impact of it can be seen after Diwali. In all likelihood, people from other states would also be back to Gurugram which would lead to sudden spike in Covid-19 cases,” said Yadav.

Dr Rajesh Kumar, former head of community medicine and public health, PGIMER-Chandigarh, said, “Gurugram is noticing the spike almost 15 days after the last unlock happened. This can continue if precautions are not taken during Diwali. There won’t be explosive outbreak but a rise in cases is expected. Therefore, testing should increase in government labs, if proportion of tests in private labs decline due to cost issues.”

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