Covid-19: Maharashtra to triple testing facilities

Geeta Nair
The BJ facility will have capacity to do confirmatory test of 150-200 samples per day and similarly in Mumbai too they will each have capacity to test 250 samples.

With doubts being raised on whether enough tests are being carried out and if there is enough capacity to carry out these tests, the Maharashtra government is nearly tripling its testing facility across the state to enhance its preparedness to combat and avoid community spread of the coronavirus. The corona positive count in the state reached 42 on Wednesday with 18 of these cases in Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad.

Maharashtra's health minister, Rajesh Tope, visited the National Institute of Virology in Pune and met the NIV director seeking their assistance in scaling up labs. The minister said the NIV team was working 24×7 and testing 400 samples per day. The Maharashtra government would be adding eight labs in around a week's time to take its network to 10 labs, among the highest in the country.

Three new labs will be operational from Thursday morning, Tope said. We were waiting for approval from ICMR which we got today (Wednesday) and we will create a facility similar to NIV at the BJ Medical College in Pune, KEM hospital in Mumbai and a second facility at the Kasturba Hospital in Mumbai, Tope said.

The BJ facility will have capacity to do confirmatory test of 150-200 samples per day and similarly in Mumbai too they will each have capacity to test 250 samples. Two more labs will come up in the Haffkine Institute in the next four days and one at the JJ Hospital after that in Mumbai, the minister said. Similar labs will be set up in Aurangabad, Dhule, Miraj and Solapur as the outbreak spreads to other parts of Maharashtra. From today (Wednesday), private labs are being allowed to carry these tests but they will have to get the ICMR approval and NIV validation before they can start these services and the entire cost will have to be borne by the private labs and their customers, the Maharashtra minister said.

Tope said they were also expanding quarantine facility and had now housed 830 people. Isolation wards in Pune have around 160 beds. In addition to this, 18 private hospitals have been asked to create 100 isolation beds. Further, for those who can afford to stay at some hotel rooms, facilities have been created for quarantine purpose in Mumbai and Pune, which together account for half the number of corona positive cases in Maharashtra. These rooms will be completely separated from rest of the hotel property. Further, to deal with emergencies, 700 ventilators will be available across these hospitals.

As part of the preparedness plan, the state has already invoked the Epidemic Disease Act and is now enforcing a cut in the attendance at companies by 50% from Thursday onwards. Public transport too will be scaled down and if crowds persist then we will be forced to shut them down completely, the minister said.

Quarantined patients had been stamped on their arms to indicate that they need so strictly follow quarantine protocol and not step out and if they did so, strict action will follow, the minister said.

The minister urged for strict enforcement of the advisories in the larger interest of the community and said the government had fully empowered the district collector to enforce directions in case of any kind of violations. Every district of Maharashtra has a disaster and containment plan covering quarantine, isolation, contact tracing and monitoring, he said.

As of now, most of the 42 positive cases were directly imported into the country and only nine were as a result of the first contact with these infected people.

The tests are being conducted on people coming from the seven most infected countries as per the central government advisories but the Maharashtra government has suggested that more countries be added to the list. Most of the cases in Maharashtra were from a group that toured Dubai, which was not on the list. Also, the latest coronavirus case was of a woman who had travelled from Netherlands but had been to France before that. He suggested that Dubai and Saudi Arabia could be added to that list looking at the number of cases.

Tope said he spoke with the country’s health minister, Harsh Vardhan who said Maharashtra was doing everything right to deal with the outbreak and needed to stay on that path. The minister said people had to be self-disciplined to ensure that it does not spread to the community.