Under lens for high COVID positivity rate, Sikkim official cites low sample size as reason

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Gangtok, Jun 29 (PTI) Sikkim, which had remained free from the clutches of coronavirus for the longest time in the country, is now among the very few states that continue to log COVID-19 daily positivity rate in double digits, putting a question mark on the management of the pandemic by the Prem Singh Tamang government.

Conceding that Sikkim's COVID-19 positivity rate is high when compared to most other states, the director general-cum-secretary, health, Dr Pempa T Bhutia, explained that samples for examination are only collected from 'symptomatic patients and their primary contacts'.

'Sikkim is not a very populated state and so the sample size for COVID-19 tests is usually small. That is one of the reasons for the high positivity rate in the state,' he told PTI on phone.

Since the first case was detected in May last year, the total number of positive cases has risen to 20,334 with 1,62,824 samples tested so far, thus recording a positivity rate of 12.48 per cent.

The tiny Himalayan state, over the past week, has registered an average positivity rate of over 16 per cent, far above the national weekly rate of 2.81 per cent.

Opposition parties, have, from time to time, expressed dissatisfaction over the efforts of the state government to contain the pandemic, with legendary footballer Bhaichung Bhutia, who is also the founder of the Hamro Sikkim Party (HSP), claiming that the ruling dispensations priorities were 'misplaced'.

The HSP founder had criticised the Tamang government for 'building a new hospital instead of upgrading the existing ones', and stressed the government should prioritise the vaccination drive over other initiatives.

The high court, too, had recently pulled up the SKM government for not framing a 'concrete' policy to deal with the menace, emphasising that it was a matter of concern.

Bhutia, on his part, asserted that the 'COVID-19 situation is under control' in Sikkim with only 61 patients currently admitted in various hospitals, of which nine are in Intensive Care Units (ICUs).

The number of positive cases in a day in the Himalayan state is 'not high or alarming', but it does appear to be so in terms of percentage, particularly if compared to bigger states, he reasoned.

The senior official further said that his department has substantially increased the sample size for COVID-19 tests since the second wave of the pandemic struck in April.

Sikkim has tested 79,000 samples between April and June this year against about 83,000 between May 2020 and March 2021, the official pointed out.

Also, 56 per cent of the total eligible population has been administered the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 9.3 per cent have received both the doses, he said.

The recovery rate, too, is improving every day, the official insisted, noting that 304 persons have died of the infection so far in the state, with most of them having comorbid conditions.

The state government was gearing up to deal with the third wave as and when it strikes, Bhutia maintained.

The ruling dispensation, in its bid to boost its health infrastructure, is setting up beds for children in government hospitals across the four districts, and building a new facility at Karfector in South Sikkim, he added.

Dr Sukhendu Roy, a former consultant with WHO, said that the high positivity rate could be an indication of a renewed bout of infections.

'While the sample size does matter, such high positivity rate does seem to indicate that there is renewed bout of infections which may have been triggered due to movement of persons,' said Roy. PTI KDK JRC RMS RMS

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