Telangana Sees One of India's Lowest Covid-19 Testing Rates, Banks on Stricter Lockdown to Fight Pandemic

After maintaining much secrecy on the number of tests being conducted in Telangana, the state Health Department on Monday said 22,842 tests have been done till May 14.

The figure is one of the lowest in the country. However, the authorities have no plans to ramp up testing, according to sources. The state has been receiving flak for not testing enough and under-reporting COVID-19 data.

The last official information on testing from the government was on April 30 when Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao said the Health Department has tested about 19,325 samples till then.

This roughly translates to an average of over 200 tests conducted per day, making it lowest in southern India. It has conducted only about 3,500 tests in the first two weeks of May even as its capital Hyderabad was labelled as a virus hotspots by the Centre.

The neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh, which recently fast-tracked the testing pattern, has conducted over two lakh tests in the same period (2,01,196) with an average of over 5,000 tests per day.

Karnataka has tested 1,28,373 samples, Tamil Nadu 2,79,467 samples, while Kerala has conducted 39,380 tests in the same period (up to May 14)

A senior doctor said health is a state subject and proactive measures need to be taken to deal with the crisis.

“Testing is a great tool to control the virus’ spread in containment zones. Only lockdown will not help fight COVID-19, testing needs to be ramped up. Lower testing is a reason for worry, especially for a state like Telangana with it capital Hyderabad heavily dependent on economic activities,” the doctor/researcher, who did not wish to be unnamed, told News18.

He further said that it would be prudent for any state to trace more, test more and provide better quarantine facilities.

The Telangana government has said no to random testing in argument that it would cause ‘panic’ among people. The state does not test asymptomatic patients. In a few instances, it did not test patients without a travel history, even if they displayed influenza (flu)-like symptoms. Random testing of frontline workers is also not being done unless they show symptoms.

State Congress leader Uttam Kumar Reddy said 652 tests per million were being done in Telangana at a time when the national average is 1,600. “Is Government policy- less tests mean less #COVID cases?” he write on Twitter on Monday.

Recently, the high court pulled up the administration for not testing suspected deceased patients.

A few days ago, Health Minister Eatala Rajender said the state is strictly following Indian Council of Medical Research guidelines (ICMR) for testing. “We are strictly following ICMR guidelines that are being updated from time to time,” Rajender told News18.

Maharashtra, Delhi and even West Bengal (criticised for under-reporting and fewer tests) have done better in this regard.

“Testing-wise a lot needs to be done in Telangana. The Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation has a lot of containment zones. But also, we are at such a stage where we are not sure about variations in the mutation of virus. This raises questions like if one test is enough or not,” Dr Sanjeev Singh Yadav, Telangana Secretary for IMA, told News18.

The state government had extended the lockdown till May 29, days before Centre’s announcement came in this regard. Telangana also has limited relaxations compared to other states and have also banned movement of food delivery apps such as Swiggy and Zomato.

Besides essential services shops and liquor shops, only a few non-essential stores related to hardware, steel and construction have been allowed to operate.