The sudden suspension has put in distress a large section of people with symptoms who are reluctant to go to clinics fearing transmission (if they did not have it to start with). They include those in home quarantine after a family member or a contact tested positive .
“Last Saturday, a lab technician collected my husband’s swab sample from our home and he tested Covid positive. Since Monday, I am in home quarantine and trying to get tested but none of the diagnostic centres are ready to send someone to my home. Only one lab agreed but said they cannot send anyone before a week. I can’t leave home and if no one comes to my place to collect the sample, how am I supposed to know if I also have the disease?” said a techie in her early 30s and a resident of Baguiati.
Similar has been the situation for a septuagenarian Tollygunge resident who has mild cough and cold and wants to get himself tested but doesn’t want to risk going to a clinic or a hospital. “My house physician has advised a Covid test. Since morning, I have called multiple diagnostic centres for home collection but none agreed. I have diabetes and at my age I don’t want to take the risk of going to a clinic and expose myself to the infection,” the senior citizen said on Saturday.
Currently, 15 private labs along with 37 state-run facilities test swab samples in Bengal. Kolkata has 11 private labs, of which Dr Lal Pathlabs and Suraksha Diagnostics are the leading ones with both clocking around 1,000 tests per day. Till Wednesday, Dr Lal Pathlabs has done 53,582 tests and Suraksha 30,556 tests.
“There is an extreme load of patients these days which is making it difficult for us to send technicians home on all occasions. Everyone, from lab technicians, to microbiologists and clinic staff are working overtime to test suspects and furnish reports on time. We are still trying to send collectors but it is taking much longer than before,” said a senior executive of a diagnostic centre.
Officials said the government’s decision to put a cap on Covid test costs has also led some labs to suspend home collections for the time being.
“The government has fixed the cost of Covid test at Rs 2,250 but we were charging Rs 3,250 after including home collection charges and costs of PPEs. Our employees were putting on fresh PPEs and gloves in front of the patients. But some patients recently complained to the state health department that we were overcharging and so we have been asked not to go for home collections any more,” said the branch head of an ICMR-accredited diagnostic centre in the city. Another official said most collectors are also unwilling to visit homes after some of their colleagues tested positive for Covid in the last weeks.
Virologists agreed that diagnostics centres are experiencing a logistics nightmare but also stressed on the importance of tests and home collections.
“Tests are absolutely necessary but not at the expense of personal safety. One should avoid visiting crowded testing centres. If home collection is no longer possible, the government should try and introduce drive-by Covid testing centres and more open-air Covid testing kiosks across the city,” said doctor Rahul Jain.
TOI spoke with a doctor over phone at the telemedicine patient service introduced by the state health department and he said he was aware of the problem. “We have learnt that home collections are being stalled at some places. But given the situation, symptomatic persons or those who have come in contact with Covid patients should practise home-isolation protocols, check their oxygen levels regularly and follow doctor prescribed diet,” he said.