Curious case of less testing for COVID-19 in Telangana

Curious case of less testing, diminishing positive coronavirus single-day tally in Telangana

Representative image/PTI Photo

In what appears as good news, fresh coronavirus cases reported in Telangana in the last few days are alleviating into single digits.

Thirteen new cases were reported on Friday, seven on Saturday, 11 on Sunday, and only two cases on Monday.

On Tuesday evening, Health Minister Etela Rajender announced six new cases. Chief Minister Chandrasekhar Rao sees these dwindling numbers “as an auspicious sign” and “clear indications that the state would be coronavirus free in a few days.”

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However, the low positive cases are allegedly linked to low testing, currently 19065. The state’s tally stands at 1,009.

In contrast, the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, with five crore population, has conducted 80,334 tests – i.e. 1,504 tests per million, the highest average among all the states in the country – and four times the Telangana figure.

Andhra has recorded 1,259 positive cases till Tuesday morning.

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The state’s officials attribute the high figure to their large-scale testing, “to detect cases early and prevent them from becoming super-spreaders.” Andhra reported 366 new cases in the last five days.

Whereas, Telangana tested 540 samples on Friday resulting in 13 positive cases. On Monday, as per CMO, only 159 tests were done resulting in two positive cases.

On Tuesday, Etela refuted allegations of deliberate low testing and fudging of COVID-19 numbers. If one has to be tested, we will test him/her, the minister said.   

Dr G Srinivasa Rao, director of public health, Telangana said that “each state has its own strategy in dealing with the pandemic.”

“We are doing tests as per the ICMR guidelines. There is no question of less or more tests. Our strategy is whatever the government of India recommends, which is tests on all symptomatic people, all primary contacts,” Rao told DH.

Telangana’s approach is thus different from AP, where symptomatic people are encouraged to get tested. In addition to RT-PCR and TrueNat TB machine tests, AP is using the Korean rapid antibody-based kits for community surveillance. Telangana has refused to do rapid kit tests. 

“They have their own method I cannot comment on that. Earlier we also did the same during the Markaz episode – about 10,000 tests on returnees, their primary, secondary contacts, as it was a targetted approach. That detection is complete. And now with our containment measures and lockdown, the fresh cases would be definitely less,” the health director, a key official in COVID-19 mitigation, says.

The official claims that on average over 300 samples are being tested daily in Telangana nowadays, “which was over a thousand earlier.”

“With no big targeted group like the Delhi Markaz returnees and their contacts we tested earlier, why test unnecessarily?” Dr Rao questions.

Rebutting some media reports, Rao said Telangana is not attempting to develop a herd immunity with lesser tests. “Herd immunity might occur at a later, right time, with vaccine support. As of now, there is no proof of herd immunity anywhere (in the world).”