COVID-19: More than half of India still not testing enough, data shows

Data shows that testing is relatively limited to people with high suspicion of COVID-19 and may miss new chains of transmission in the community

By Rajit Sengupta
Published: Sunday 23 May 2021

More than half of India is still not testing enough, the latest numbers released by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare suggest. Of the 741 districts in the country, 382 continue to have a positivity rate higher than 10 per cent.  

Positivity rate is the percentage of people who test positive for the virus among those who have been tested overall. A high positivity rate indicates that testing is relatively limited to people with high suspicion of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and may miss new chains of transmission in the community.

A low positivity rate, in contrast, means testing levels are sufficient for the scale of the epidemic and surveillance is penetrating the community enough to detect any resurgence, according to the website

The World Health Organization recommends that the daily positivity rate be below 5 per cent for at least two weeks before relaxing public health measures. A positivity rate of 10 per cent is considered acceptable.

Of the 37 states and Union territories, more than half of the districts in 25 of them have a positivity rate more than 10 per cent. In nine of them — Andhra Pradesh, Chandigarh, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Lakshadweep, Puducherry, Sikkim and West Bengal — all the districts have a high positivity rate.  

Telangana, Mizoram, Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli have no districts with high positivity rate.  Meanwhile, Uttar Pradesh (Ghaziabad) and Bihar (Patna) recorded just one district with high positivity rate.

Poor testing in rural areas

Almost 70 per cent of the districts with high positivity rate are rural, indicating several positive cases are going undiagnosed. Odisha has the maximum number of rural districts (27), followed by Karnataka and Tamil Nadu (25) and West Bengal (18). At the same time, 13 of the 15 districts with the worst positivity rates are also rural.

Four of the five worst performing districts are in Arunchal Pradesh: Changlang (96 per cent), East Kameng (80 per cent), Namsai (77 per cent) and Upper Subansiri (67 per cent). Two more Arunachal districts — Upper Siang and Kamle — feature in the 10 worst districts.

Slow progress

Though still at alarming levels, India’s positivity rate is on a downward trend. From 22.6 per cent May 8, the country’s positivity rate came down to 14.55 May 21. Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the Union health ministry said May 21:

India witnessed a consistent upward trend in weekly tests since mid-February with average daily tests increasing 2.3 times in the last 12 weeks. As a result of increased testing, the case positivity has started declining since the last two weeks, after a consistent increase for 10 weeks.

How we got the numbers

In the wake of the misinformation crises spread through the information and communications industries and in the interest of transparent and easy access to public information, we have added this section about the source of the data used to arrive at the projections and analysis. We are conscious of our responsibility as journalists to use genuine data and transparently share it with our readers.  

The vaccine numbers are taken from the Union healthy ministry’s daily bulletin. Census 2011 and state websites have been used segregate the districts into urban and rural (those with more than 60 per cent rural population).

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