COVID-19 test labs across the country are at their limits, says Thyrocare Tech MD, Dr Velumani

In an interview with ET Now, Dr A Velumani, managing director of talks of the hold up in testing and why the problem is universal.

What is happening with the availability of testing kits? Reports suggest there is a huge shortage of RT-PCR kits, is that true? Is there enough capacity right now to fulfil the obligation of having 70% of all tests be RT-PCR in the state?

There is no shortage of reagents, what is probably happening is that there is no more capacity. What that means is that laboratories are at their total capacity. If a city like Mumbai has the capacity to do 50,000 tests a day and demand rises to 2,00,000, there’s no way the city can do it. All these premises have limitation, you can’t just start a new one.

Last September, we had a certain capacity, we thought we should add more capacity, but then subsequently there was an apparent slowdown in India’s case count. We came down to as little as 20% capacity in January, but, in these last eight weeks there has been 100% growth, every week. Amidst these rising loads, we cannot do more and because the government has said no employees should work without a negative RT-PCR test, the pressure is on the corporate and in turn is on the laboratories. Honestly, there is no reagent paucity in the industry now.

Let me understand this, there’s no paucity of raw material, but the shortage or the tightness in supply is because of just physical human capability of getting the samples, processing them, space in the labs, is that the choke up?

400 days – non-stop day and night – COVID-19 warriors have been fighting. For Gudi Padwa they asked for leave, for Holi they asked for a leave, leave just wasn’t possible. There is visible fatigue and more than anything else, swab collection technicians can’t suddenly be created. In the month of March, last year, we had none. We ramped up till September, to collect somewhere around 40,000 swabs in the city of Mumbai. Today, you need to collect 2,00,000 swabs, where do you get technicians from?

With prices capped, we have to pay extra allowances to make up for it and every lab in the country is facing the same thing – there’s simply too much demand to keep up with.


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