Ten districts in Karnataka are COVID-19 free. A fact the Karnataka government is proud of. Next week, when the state Cabinet meets to decide on the steps to be taken if the lockdown is lifted on 3 May, these 'green zone' districts will be a key discussion point.
But here is another fact – as on 23 April, 62 percent of the COVID-19 positive patients in Karnataka are asymptomatic.
This raises the question of whether there are undetected cases in these 10 'green' districts. Are there hotspots here that the state is not aware of, simply because those affected have shown no visible symptoms?
If the lockdown is lifted on 3 May, what if undetected asymptomatic positive cases infect the elderly or other vulnerable groups? Only large-scale random sample testing could address this concern.
On this issue, the Karnataka government has been talking about conducting large scale testing to ensure identification of positive cases and quarantining them to control spread. However, these plans may not take off before 3 May, as Karnataka’s order for 1 lakh rapid testing kits is yet to arrive.
Even the 12,000 kits the state received from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) are unavailable for testing since the central government is still verifying their efficiency.
At present, Karnataka conducts 2,000 tests per day and as of 23 April, 32122 tests have been conducted in the state. Health care workers say these rapid kits would increase testing capacity exponentially.
“These rapid kits are essentially antibody tests, which is not the final test. But, it gives us the ability to test lakhs of people in very quick time. This means we can cover a large number of people. Currently, the government is collecting details of those who are suffering from influenza, and so on, so we have a pool to test from as well,” said a senior officer with the department of health and family welfare.
However, according to sources in the government, the order for 1 lakh testing kits may not be delivered for another two weeks. That means they may reach quite a few days after 3 May.
While Karnataka is struggling to conduct more tests, its neighbour Andhra Pradesh is all set to conduct 10 lakh tests using rapid kits procured from South Korea. On Wednesday, as many as 6,522 samples were tested using these rapid kits. The state’s testing capacity has risen to 961 tests per million people, which is the highest in the country.
When asked if the Karnataka government is planning to get more kits from sources other than China, a senior IAS officer said the discussion is underway.