COVID-19: Is India testing enough? Here’s what data says

India’s daily testing has dropped dramatically since September

By Taran Deol
Published: Thursday 09 December 2021
COVID-19: Is India conducting enough tests? Photo: iStock

Test, track and treat were deemed the cornerstones of any strategy to fight the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. India, however, now seems to be going easy on the first step itself.

India added 6,822 cases of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on December 7, 2021  — its lowest in 558 days, the Union health ministry noted. 

The country’s other COVID-19 parameters are also encouraging when looked at in isolation: On December 8, there were 93,733 active cases, the lowest in over 550 days, and recovery rate for the last 24 hours was 98.36 per cent, the highest since March 2020.

However, India’s daily testing has dropped dramatically since September, ranging from 886,263-1.25 million in the first week of December, according to data from the Indian Council of Medical Research.

The figure is much lower than the 4-4.5 million tests per day target the Narendra Modi government set in May (to be achieved by June-end). A closer look at the data reveals that testing — key in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic — declined significantly between the end of May and October-November.

Read more: Omicron threat: How fast is India vaccinating against COVID-19

In the week preceding the peak of the second COVID-19 wave in India, between April 29 and May 6, 12.2 million tests were conducted. The figure rose steadily in the following weeks — to 14.6 million between May 20-27 and 18.3 million between May 27 May and June 3. 

Daily testing followed a downward trend since then and is yet to recover. In the week ended June 10, an average of 16.8 million tests were conducted every day. This further dropped to 12.9 million in the following week. 

Two more months of teeter-totter later, the testing figures were on a steady downward spiral from September till today, with only a few days of erratic, insignificant growth.

During September 8-13, just 7.62 million tests were conducted on an average each day. The  figure rose slightly to 10 million by the end of the month and remained below this mark since then. 

In October-November the daily average test range was 6.87-8.8 million. 

Kerala (4,656 cases), Tamil Nadu (710), Maharashtra (699), West Bengal (507) and Karnataka (299) account for the highest proportion (81 per cent) of daily cases today. These are also the states that have been testing relatively more than others. 

Kerala, with a positivity rate of 7.7 per cent — the highest in the country — conducted 67,437 tests on December 7. From 57,000-68,000 throughout November, the figure slid to 45,412 on 6 December. 

Mirroring the national trend, daily testing was higher in September — at 234,365 tests on 19 September — after which it steadily declined to 70,000 by October-end. 

Tamil Nadu, with a positivity rate of 0.7 per cent, conducted 100,393 tests on December 7. The figure has been steady since, hovering around 100,000 since September. 

Maharashtra has a positivity rate of 0.6 per cent and has tested 99,010 samples on 7 December. Its daily tests have been around 100,000 through November and October. It reached a peak of 455,015 tests on September 29 and stayed between 150,000-170,000 this month.

West Bengal has a positive rate of 1.6 per cent and conducted 35,201 tests on December 7. The figure dropped to 22,080 on December 6, before which it fell between 35,000 and 40,000 through September, October and November, barring a sudden drop to 18,000 in mid-October.

With a positivity rate of 0.4 per cent, Karnataka conducted 81,194 tests on December 7 and has hovered around 100,000 this month. Daily tests in the state were around 140,000 on an average in September, fluctuated between 60,000 and 100,000 in October and was in the 50,000-110,000 range in November.

Highly populated states like Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh had been reporting a really low number of cases. However, data on, a data dashboard that pulls figures from the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, shows no tests done all through November and December for both states. 

Data reporting is key when it comes to fighting a pandemic, but studies in the past have revealed the disparity in how India’s states report COVID-19.

The detection of Omicron as a ‘variant of concern’ by the World Health Organization (WHO) and speculations about its potential to be highly transmissible and evade immunity makes adequate testing key for battling another surge. 

The health ministry had urged state governments to ramp up testing, stressing that RT-PCR and rapid antigen tests can successfully detect the new variant. 

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.