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Covid testing strategy revised for Bengaluru; more focus on RT-PCR test


The Karnataka government has revised its Covid-19 testing strategy for Bengaluru to focus on the more accurate RT-PCR tests rather than rapid antigen tests (RAT).

The health department issued a revised testing target for all 30 districts on Wednesday, according to which only 5,000 out of the 25,000 daily tests to be done in Bengaluru should be antigen tests. The city municipal body — Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) — has been asked to focus on RT-PCR tests, with a target of 20,000 tests per day.

“We are reducing the number of antigen tests because of the enhanced testing capacity of RT-PCR laboratories. RT-PCR test will be our first priority,” Arundhathi Chandrashekar, mission director of the National Health Mission told
ET.

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About two months ago, the state government had tried to give a huge push to antigen testing, by setting a target of 11,500 tests per day in Bengaluru. Over the next few weeks, the health department went on increasing the antigen test target, even as the field staff struggled to find people who were willing to get tested.

Karnataka’s Covid testing guideline allows performing RT-PCR tests on contacts of confirmed Covid cases and those in infection zones, irrespective of whether the person is symptomatic or asymptomatic.

Antigen tests, however, are to be performed on people with ILI and SARI symptoms and vulnerable groups without known contact of Covid positive cases. The testing guidelines also mandate a repeat test of RT-PCR on symptomatic people if their antigen test report is negative.

Covid test data shows that Bengaluru has struggled to meet the antigen-testing target. In the last seven days, the BBMP could only achieve 11% of the RAT target. The city corporation tested 1,535 samples a day on average on RAT, as against the target of 14,000. As for RT-PCR, the BBMP exceeded the target by 213%.

While the daily target of RT-PCR tests was 11,400, the city conducted 24,228 tests.

A senior official monitoring Covid-related work in the BBMP said that getting hold of people willing to get antigen tests was becoming a challenge. “Very few people with ILI symptoms are willing to get tested. Besides primary health centres and fever clinics, we set up temporary camps in wards asking people to walk in and quickly get tested, but the response was lukewarm,” said the officer, who did not wish to be identified, adding that the focus on RT-PCR test was the right approach.

Another officer aware of the shift in testing strategy said one of the reasons for reducing the antigen test target was the death of a health officer in Nanjangud last month. The taluk health officer allegedly died by suicide because of pressure from senior officials to meet the Covid testing target. Karnataka tests about 75,000 samples a day, of which 25,000 are from Bengaluru city.





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