Coronavirus outbreak: Maharashtra set to ramp up testing, but not Mumbai

Updated: Apr 09, 2020, 07:44 IST | Arita Sarkar | Mumbai

Cracks show in State-BMC co-ordination: While state will hike capacity by 1,800 samples a day, none of the additional facilities will be in Mumbai, which has the highest COVID-19 cases

Police personnel near CM's residence in Bandra East being tested on Wednesday. Pic/Suresh Karkera
Police personnel near CM's residence in Bandra East being tested on Wednesday. Pic/Suresh Karkera

While the state government is set to increase testing capacity by another 1,800 samples a day, none of these will be in Mumbai, despite the city reporting the highest number of cases in Maharashtra. A lack of communication between the state and civic machinery seems to be the reason behind this as the state believes BMC's laboratories are not operating at their optimum capacity.

A lack of communication between the state and civic machinery seems to be the reason behind this as the state believes BMC's laboratories are not operating at their optimum capacity. Civic officials, however, say they have been testing more than their capacity of 350 samples a day.

An official from the state health department said that while the laboratories at KEM and Kasturba Hospital should be able to test around 450 samples a day, their output is lower. "The two laboratories have never operated to their full capacity. While loading the machine, they don't fill in the maximum number of samples due to which empty slots are wasted in that round of testing. There are no plans of setting up additional labs in Mumbai," said the official, adding that despite several requests, the BMC doesn't share all their data with the state health department. For a couple of weeks now, the tally of positive cases announced by the state health department and the BMC has not matched.

Residents of Sewri slums being screened and tested after a suspected contact with a COVID-19 positive patient in the area on Wednesday. Pic/Suresh Karkera
Residents of Sewri slums being screened and tested after a suspected contact with a COVID-19 positive patient in the area on Wednesday. Pic/Suresh Karkera

'Testing more than capacity'
The BMC, however, has been struggling with the testing. Even though the testing shouldn't take longer than three hours, many ward officials said that they have to wait for a couple of days before they get the reports from Kasturba. The laboratory at Kasturba is a regional centre and civic officials say that it has a capacity of testing 250 samples in a day while KEM hospital can test up to 100 samples a day and that both laboratories have been functioning 24 hours a day. Dr Jayanthi Shastri, the microbiologist handling the laboratory at Kasturba Hospital, said, "Our capacity is 250 samples a day and we have been testing more than that. On Monday, we tested 292 samples and on Tuesday we tested 272 samples."

Labs across state
Government-run laboratories across the state currently have a capacity of testing 2,400 samples a day and private laboratories can test another 1,500. Sanjay Mukherjee, Secretary of Medical Education and Drugs Department said, "Four more laboratories which can test 100 samples a day are being readied at Latur, Chandrapur, Yavatmal and Gadchiroli. One lab at Nagpur with a capacity of 100 samples a day has been approved and will be opened this week. In addition to that, 13 universities in the state had submitted applications to set up laboratories with a capacity of 100 samples each with the ICMR. With these, Maharashtra will have the highest testing capacity in the country," said Mukherjee.

Samples from outskirts add to load
Apart from testing the samples from Mumbai, until recently, the Kasturba and KEM were also receiving samples from the outskirts including Navi Mumbai, Thane, Palghar among others since there are no laboratories there. In order to streamline the process, Dr T P Lahane who heads that Directorate of Medical Research issued a circular on April 4 stating that BMC would test samples from within the city while other neighbouring corporations would send their samples to JJ Hospital and Haffkine Laboratory. State health department officials said that despite the demarcation of testing facilities, Kasturba had sent around 120 samples to the laboratory at JJ Hospital on Wednesday.

Gearing for 5,700 tests a day
Based on current figures, Maharashtra has the highest number of cases, the third-highest mortality in the country and Mumbai has the highest number of deaths in the state. Despite several calls and messages, civic chief Praveen Pardeshi and additional municipal commissioner Suresh Kakani were unavailable for comment.

250
Samples Kasturba lab can test in a day

100
Samples KEM lab can test in a day

1,500
Samples pvt labs in state can test a day

2,400
No. of samples govt-run labs across state can currently test in a day

Patient dies at Shatabdi

A 52-year-old patient died during treatment at Shatabdi hospital on Wednesday morning following which around 10 family members of the deceased were sent to an isolation centre.

The deceased was a resident of Kandivli East and was admitted a couple of days back. The doctors had sent a swab from his throat for the COVID-19 test and the report returned positive.

He was admitted in the COVID-19 ward but passed away during the treatment on Wednesday, said Medical Superintendent Parmod Nagarkar from Shatabdi hospital. The hospital authority initially sent his body for the last rites to the Dhanukar Wadi cremation centre for burning, but as the family objected and with the interference of several Muslim social workers and a politician, the hospital had to finally allow to body to be buried.

The body was eventually taken to the Muslim cemetery situated on the Western express Highway at Goregaon East.

Nagarkar told mid-day, "According to guidelines issued by the government, bodies of the COVID-19 patients must be burned or buried in large grounds away from human habitation."

- Samiullah Khan

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