Here is some data for the number of Coronavirus (COVID-19 / SARS-CoV-2 / 2019-nCoV) tests being done in 17 countries which are reporting fresh data on testing almost on a daily basis. Some of the figures may not be completely reliable, but are a good indication.
- Switzerland is doing 12,600 tests per day, which is about 1467 tests per million.
- Australia is doing 15,649 tests per day, which is about 621 tests per million.
- Italy is doing 36,505 tests per day, which is about 603 tests per million.
- Russia is doing 68,769 tests per day, which is about 471 tests per million.
- USA is doing 127,136 tests per day, which is about 386 tests per million.
- Austria is doing 3,270 tests per day, which is about 365 tests per million.
- South Korea is doing 11,321 tests per day, which is about 221 tests per million.
- UK is doing 10,550 tests per day, which is about 156 tests per million.
- Turkey is doing 11,880 tests per day, which is about 142 tests per million.
- Malaysia is doing 2,508 tests per day, which is about 78 tests per million.
- Vietnam is doing 1,708 tests per day, which is about 18 tests per million.
- Japan is doing 1,902 tests per day, which is about 15 tests per million.
- Pakistan is doing 2,325 tests per day, which is about 11 tests per million.
- Mexico is doing 1,396 tests per day, which is about 11 tests per million.
- Philippines is doing 439 tests per day, which is about 4 tests per million.
- Indonesia is doing 666 tests per day, which is less than 3 tests per million.
- India is doing only 3,529 tests per day, which is less than 3 tests per million.
And we say that we have been able to control the spread of the disease because of the Lockdown. We have only done 17,644 tests in five days and have 1,010 new cases. Surely we couldn’t get 18,000 cases in 5 days if we only did 17,644 tests. I hope you understand what I am trying to say.
I agree that we can’t manage to do 1,467 tests per million per day or even 621 or 603, as these numbers are only possible in smaller countries, and especially where the healthcare infrastructure is much better developed. But we can surely increase our testing velocity to 11 tests per million per day, if Pakistan is able to manage that.
How many regulators does it take for India to approve a Covid-19 test? The answer is one, the ICMR, or the Indian Council of Medical Research. And one institute under ICMR, to insist on 100% accuracy – the NIV, or the National Institute of Virology (even their website doesn’t work!!!). Between the two of them lies confusion and opacity, for which there is no sensible explanation.
As a relatively poor, densely populated developing country of 1.366 billion people begins to confront the scary possibility of widespread community transmission of COVID-19, it needs to move to a protocol of extensive testing. Instead, sadly, we are wasting precious days and weeks fumbling our testing strategy.
Kits are in short supply; some of them are failing; and some suppliers are jacking up prices. A few labs are allegedly even hoarding kits.
The reasons could be many, but ICMR’s lack of transparency and organisation have played a major role in the current confusion. Meanwhile, NIV has set an impossibly perfect benchmark for tests to be approved—100% sensitivity (to detect 100% cases) and 100% specificity (to detect 100% negative cases).
“No kit in the world shows 100% sensitivity or specificity. Even a textbook definition talks of anything between 96% to 98%,” said the India spokesperson of a global diagnostics company whose kit is approved.
A curious loophole exists for importers of test kits which are US FDA-approved or have Europe’s CE certification (neither of which requires 100% specificity): they can get approval from the drug regulator to sell those kits in India.
Meanwhile, ICMR has curiously not (yet) included some of India’s leading medical research institutes in its efforts. Surely, ICMR needs to up its game.
I urge Prime Minister Narendra Modi to do a surgical strike, just like he did after the Uri and Pulwama terror attacks. Those caused the loss of 17 and 40 lives, respectively, the Coronavirus Pandemic has already taken 53 lives (as per covid19india.org) and this number can cross 530 or even 5,300 anytime soon. Yes, COVID-19 is much bigger than any terror attack that India has ever faced. It’s also bigger than any communal riot.
He just needs to look at the figures from USA, which has reported 3,020 new deaths in the last 5 days, or Spain, which has reported 4,964 new deaths in these 5 days.