LAHORE: The fight against Covid-19 suffered a dent during the peak season of the pandemic when the Punjab government reduced the tests carried out to detect the virus in suspected patients by about 40 per cent against its capacity of 5,000 tests each day.
The official figures showed that the Punjab authorities were not conducting tests even according to the capacity required to assess actual incidence of the virus in the general public.
The sharp decline in the test ratio that has been witnessed during the past one week or so has shocked many.
According to the official figures, the Punjab government had performed 1,755 tests on April 25, as compared to 3,649 on April 18, which was even less than the original capacity of around 5,000 tests per day.
An official said that the number gradually decreased over a week as is evident from the official data that showed 2,345 tests were performed in Punjab on April 20 and 2,221 on April 21. Similarly, 1,832 tests were carried out on April 23 all over the province and 2,089 on April 24.
The number of tests went below the 2,000 mark when the figure for April 25 dropped to 1,755 even though the government was capable of performing 5,000 tests each day.
The official said that the Punjab government was being accused of bringing test ratio down deliberately to show less number of confirmed patients of Covid-19 in the province.
According to the official documents, Punjab has a capacity to perform 6,374 tests each day.
Of them, 4,974 tests can be conducted at the state-run labs while others at private ones. In the government sector, the lab located at the Punjab Aids Control Programme has the capacity of conducting most tests (2,000 per day), followed by 800 at the Pakistan Kidney and Liver Institute (PKLI) and 380 at the Lahore TB Control Programme Lab.
Similarly, Nishtar Medical University Multan has a capacity of conducting 384 tests each day, the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences 200, the Institute of Public Health, Multan TB Programme, Rawalpindi Medical University and Allied Hospital Faisalabad 190 each and the Punjab Forensic Science Agency and the Jinnah Hospital Lahore each have a capacity of conducting 100 tests per day.
Besides, eight more labs established by the Punjab government are almost ready to perform tests on coronavirus patients in coming days.
In the private sector, Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital Lahore has a capacity of 900 tests while Chughtai Lab can do 500 tests daily.
The Punjab government has invited strong criticism by performing 40 to 50 per cent fewer tests as compared to its total capacity.
The public criticised the PTI government in Punjab on social media for bringing the test ratio down when a comparison showed the Sindh government taking a lead in the country by conducting maximum tests.
The health authorities of Punjab took an excuse that the reason behind decline in tests was the government’s policy to give priority to those people waiting in quarantine centres across the province.
“We have been conducting tests of people of four categories including pilgrims arrived from Iran, Tableeghi Jamaat members, prisoners and the other citizens,” said a spokesperson for the Punjab health department.
He said the test ratio had gone high when the health teams conducted tests of 11,481 Tableeghi Jamaat members quarantined in all 36 districts of the province.
Under a standard operating procedure (SOP), he said the tests of each confirmed patient of the virus were performed twice to find out status of the disease and in some cases thrice.
Of them, he said, 9,015 were recently discharged. The same was situation with the pilgrims arrived from Iran and quarantined at various parts of the province.
As most of the pilgrims and Tableeghi Jamaat members have been discharged, the number of tests declined during last a week or so, the spokesperson said.
“Now we are expanding scope of testing through smart sampling project (SSP),” he said, adding that under this scheme the health department would perform tests of 10,000 general citizens.
These 10,000 tests shall be performed within three days, the spokesperson said while denying an willful negligence in bringing the test ratio down.
In addition to this, he said, the health department was also focusing these days the tests of Pakistani citizens the government bringing from abroad on special flights almost daily.
Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2020