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As Health Min takes comfort in 'stabilising' growth rate, anomalies found in testing data

As Health Min takes comfort in stabilising growth rate, anomalies found in testing data

New Delhi: As the Health Ministry on Thursday proudly announced that India's COVID-19 growth rate is stabilising and although these are early trends that this was a good sign, last week's testing numbers showed not one but several anomalies, which included a serious mismatch between the total number of positive cases posted by the Indian Council of Medical Research and the Health Ministry on March 25.

As of 8 pm on March 25, the ICMR said that a total of 581 people had tested positive for COVID-19. However, the Health Ministry had already hours ago announced that the total number of cases in India had risen to 606. Interestingly, ICMR is the nodal agency for Coronavirus testing in India and it reports to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, yet both had posted different numbers.

It is also not possible that the Health Ministry is getting data from private laboratories that are testing for SARS-CoV-2 because private testing is yet to begin and as per ICMR guidelines for private testing, these labs would also have to report their samples to the ICMR-NIV, Pune lab. Curiously, ICMR has not posted a bulletin on a total number of tests conducted and the total number of positive cases since the data discrepancy popped up. It has been issuing two every day – one with data as of 10 am and one with data as of 6/8 pm.

In addition, the testing numbers put out by the ICMR in the last week have some anomalies when the growth of rate of positive cases is considered. Between March 20 and 25, India's rate of positive cases in total tested people went from 1.53 per cent to 2.4 per cent and then down to 2.3 percent. What this signifies is that On March 20, 1.53 percent of tested people were positive for COVID-19 and that rate increased to 2.4 per cent before coming down to 2.3 per cent. However, the problem in ICMR's data is that they have not nearly tested enough samples to be showing such a stabilisation in growth of rate of positive cases.

Apart from China, one of the only countries to have posted such stabilisation numbers is South Korea and they have one of the highest testing numbers – close to 4,00,000 people. In comparison, India has tested less than 25,000 people as of 8 pm on March 25.

In fact, countries that have tested considerably more people than India have been unable to achieve such stabilisation numbers even despite testing more than 4,00,000 lakh people. In UK (97,019 tests as of March 25), the rate of positive cases grew from 5.94 per cent on March 20 to 9.82 per cent on March 25. In the US (4,33,545 tests as of March 25), the rate grew from 12.3 per cent on March 20 to 14.68 per cent on March 25.

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