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Daily tests dip by over 21,000 as test kit availability becomes concern

New Delhi: The 24-hour testing numbers for COVID-19 in India saw a dramatic fall when the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Monday morning reported that a total of 64,651 tests were conducted on Sunday – a fall of more than 21,000 tests compared to Saturday's figures.

Official data from ICMR showed that India had conducted 85,824 tests, which was 21,173 more than Sunday's numbers. While it is true that the number of tests conducted on Sundays has been lower consistently over the past few weeks, the drop of over 21,000 tests is unprecedented – indicating that authorities here might be facing a serious shortage of test kits.

In fact, on April 27, the number of tests conducted dropped by around 5,000. Following this, on May 4, tests conducted fell by 10,000 and on May 5, the tests dropped by over 21,000. At least in the last three weeks, the drop in testing numbers on Sundays has consistently been doubling.

According to an ICMR study on the interventions needed to scale up India's testing capacity, the country should have readied the infrastructure required to conduct up to 1 lakh test per day by the second week of May. The highest testing number as of now stands at around 85,000 tests per day.

This data comes even as the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare changed the home quarantine guidelines – no longer requiring negative tests before ending a mild/moderate COVID-19 patient's home isolation period. In addition, HLL Lifecare has recently put out a tender for the supply of 29 lakh RT-PCR kits, further indicating India's dire need to ration test kits, even as the government insists that it has the adequate amount of supply.

However, what is significant in the face of these reduced testing numbers and shortage of test kits is that Adar Poonawalla-led Serum Institute of India and Ahmedabad-based Zydus Cadila are now looking to meet the entire domestic demand for COVID-19 test kits in India.

After the failure of the antibody test kits from China, the ICMR on Sunday announced that it is partnering with Cadila Healthcare to develop indigenous ELISA antibody test kits; whereas, earlier it was announced that Poonawalla's Serum Institute would be partnering with Pune-based MyLabs to manufacture enough RT-PCR kits to be able to meet all of India's domestic demand.

Interestingly, this comes as several industry insiders have complained of an "opaque" tender process that seems to be riddled with discrepancies. For instance, many have complained of officials being unresponsive to pre-bid queries and not providing enough time to submit these queries.

The most recent tender for test kits was dated May 8 but did not appear on the HLL Lifecare or ICMR website until the evening of May 9. The deadline for submitting pre-bid queries was set at 2 pm on May 10.

Furthermore, after the antibody test kits from two Chinese manufacturers purportedly malfunctioned in India, the ICMR has not put out any tender or invited any bids for the supply of these rapid kits.

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