Private diagnostic laboratories have started testing for coronavirus (Covid-19) strain, but they are yet to handle a sizeable number of cases per day. Almost 90 per cent of queries fizzle out after patients realise the cost of testing will not be borne by the government.
At present, the cost of testing for Covid-19 is Rs 4,500 per examination and the results are available within 24 hours.
Patients, however, find the amount high; most opt out after placing an enquiry, claim labs.
On the first day of testing, Thyrocare received 3,000 enquiries. The local government (in this case Maharashtra) gave it another 2,000 contacts that it wanted tested. A Velumani, chairman of Thyrocare, said when it was revealed to these patients that they need to cough up Rs 4,500 for the test, only 30 were willing to pay.
Of this 30, almost 90 per cent requested the collection executive to not visit their homes in protective gear and subsequently cancelled the tests. “They were worried about the neighbours finding out,” said Velumani.
The costs do not work out well for the labs. The numbers have improved since Monday. “At the end of the 21-day lockdown, we should be able to touch a decent number,” added Velumani. He, however, felt if the cost of tests are subsidised by the government, many more would sign up.
A senior executive of another Mumbai-based private lab said at best 100 samples are now being tested in Mumbai. “Most of the testing is confined to Delhi and Mumbai,” he added.
ICICI Securities said Metropolis Healthcare management has indicated it is preparing to ramp up its testing capacity from a few hundreds per day to thousands per day. It plans to source the kits from multiple vendors to avoid bottlenecks.
“The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has been testing 50-60 cases per day per machine despite a capability of 500. This was due to stringent testing profile criteria of travel history. Metropolis believes that with 30 per cent capacity, private companies would be able to support 70 per cent of the requirement,” ICICI Securities noted.
In an urgent move to expand Covid-19 diagnostics in India, ICMR has now invited quotations from manufacturers for the supply of kits. It estimates a tentative requirement of 700,000 kits soon.
There are around 29 private labs and 119 government labs, of which 104 are operational.