Centre hits out at Telangana for low test policy

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Hyderabad: The Centre has told the Telangana state government that “lack of proactive testing” will not help the state contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

Union health secretary Preeti Sudan, in a letter addressed to chief secretary Somesh Kumar, pointed out that the state had a higher positivity rate — the ratio of positive diagnosis to the number of tests conducted — than the national average.

“We need to chase the virus rather than the virus chase us,” Sudan said and urged the chief secretary to review the situation and enhance testing. Telangana state accounted for just 1.5 per cent, or 20,754, of the more than 14 lakh RT-PCR (real-time polymerase chain reaction) tests carried out nationwide, she said.

Sudan noted that the number of samples tested in Telangana was far behind Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu, which have reported high numbers of Covid-19 cases. “The total number of cases in Telangana as on 17 May was 1,551, with 34 deaths,” she pointed out.

A health ministry official said while Andhra Pradesh conducted 9,000 tests per day on average, Telangana state’s total is just over 200.

Sudan noted, “Telangana’s tally of tests per million population was far lower than that of other states, as well as the national average, between 30 April and 6 May. While the all-India testing average was 1,025 per million population, the figure for Telangana was only 546.”

Sudan pointed out that “at all-India level, the percentage of positive samples to total tests (positivity rate) is about 4.12 per cent whereas, in Telangana, it is 5.26 per cent, which shows that if we carry out RT-PCR testing aggressively, we will be able to identify cases and be able to have better containment by breaking the chain.”

Finding fault with the state administration for not using private laboratories for RT-PCR testing, though the number of government labs is small, Sudan said, “this indicates the capacities of the labs are not utilised optimally.”

Asked about the letter, TS health minister Etela Rajender told Deccan Chronicle it was addressed to the chief secretary who would give an appropriate reply explaining the state’s approach.

He said it was the TS government which had first said that the rapid tests were not accurate, and the first to alert the Centre about the spread of the virus from the Tablighi Jamaat congregation returnees. “We aimed at conducting targeted tests and not for conducting tests blindly to create panic among the people,” he said.

Rajender said that in the US 16 out of 100 tests return positive while in Telangana state it stood at six. “This shows our accurate approach,” he said.

Reacting to the letter, state Congress president N Uttam Kumar Reddy said that since the beginning the Congress had been pointing out the errors in the government’s approach. The Centre’s letter established that the state government was trying to hush up the factual situation, he said.

Reddy recalled that chief minister K Chandrashekhar Rao had said that paracetamol could treat Covid-19 and that showed he lacked understanding of the disease. Though the Indian Council for Medical and Research had repeatedly advised more tests, Rao had been dodging the issue by diverting the attention of the people.

BJP state president Bandi Sanjay Kumar said that since the beginning the party had been expressing doubts on the government’s approach. He said the BJP had requested the Centre to send another inter-ministerial team to the state keeping in view the attitude of the KCR government.

BJP spokesperson Krishna Sagar Rao in a statement demanded the resignation of minister Rajender for endangering the population of the state by deliberately conducting fewer tests.

He alleged that Rajender had not only underperformed during the crisis but also willfully misled the people, the Opposition and the media.

Reacting to the criticism, Rajender said, “Opposition parties, particularly the Congress and the BJP, are worried but the government’s handling of the situation has attracted appreciation from across many sections. It is chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao who had alerted the state administration since March 2 and kept it on the alert to combat the virus.”

He asked if the Opposition wanted more deaths. “Don’t they want the people to live with courage? What exactly do they want with their unmindful and meaningless criticism,” he asked.

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