COVID Spike: Citizens Face Long Delays & Confusion in Test Results

India on Monday, 12 April, reported 1,68,912 fresh COVID-19 cases, taking the country’s tally to 1,35,27,717

5 min read
COVID Spike: Citizens Face Long Delays & Confusion in Test Results

Arun Kumar, who runs a tailoring business in New Delhi’s Palam area, got his COVID-19 test done at a government facility on 5 April. He was suffering from severe body ache and mild fever and was advised an RT-PCR test. On Monday, 12 April, he said he was still waiting for the result.

“I was told I’ll get my results within 48 hours on my phone. But the message only says that it will take more time,” Arun said.

Waseem, a 32-year-old IT professional, decided to get tested on the morning of 9 April after he developed symptoms. Seventy-two hours later, he has little clarity about when his results will arrive.

At a time when several parts of India are experiencing a sharp spike in COVID-19 cases, thousands of RT-PCR tests across the country are getting delayed. Results that used to be ready within 24 hours are now taking up to a week, and sometimes more, to be available. Many have had to struggle for days to get an RT-PCR test done while some have failed to get even test appointments scheduled.

India on Monday, 12 April, reported 1,68,912 fresh COVID-19 cases, taking the country’s tally to 1,35,27,717, as the death toll rose by 904 to 1,70,179. This is the highest one-day spike reported since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.

According to the Union Health Ministry data, there are 12,01,009 active cases across the country.

Blank Test Result

In a bizarre case of negligence at a government centre in New Delhi, an individual received a blank result and was only told orally that she had tested negative.

Mamta Sharma, a resident of New Delhi got tested on 29 January and was told she would receive her report in 24 hours. “We only received a blank report online. I went back to the hospital to check what happened and they just told me verbally that it was negative,” said Pragya Chamoli, her daughter.

Chamoli said the hopsital officials pointed to a printout which just had a bunch of names and ‘negative’ written next to them. “There was no official seal or signature,” she added.

Many Unable to Get Tested

Sejal Pandey, a Noida-based media professional, was scheduled to travel to Mussoorie, Uttarakhand, on 2 April and had booked her accommodation and travel tickets more than a week in advance.

On 31 March, Uttarakhand government made it mandatory to get RT-PCR tests done in wake of the Kumbh Mela.

“I learned about this on 31 March and had to leave early morning on 2 April for Mussourie which left me only with 1st to get the test done,” Pandey told The Quint.

Pandey said she enrolled at three places on 31 March that claimed to have the test done at home and provide results in 24 hours. There was no way to call these places. All the facilities just asked for details and assured a call back.

“I received a call from one of the three facilities. The caller took more details, allotted me the earliest available slot (1-2 pm) and told me ‘while there is no guarantee that the sample will be collected within this slot, it shall definitely will be collected before 6 pm’. The home testing and collection agent, however, never showed up.

Meanwhile, Pandey checked with 10-15 centres listed on the ‘Mera Covid Kendra app’ for UP. None of these centres guaranteed reports within 24 hours and said they'd most likely take 48 hours to give back results.

Desperate to get the test done within the 24-hour window she had prior to her departure on 2 April, she walked into testing centres in Guar City, Sector 50 and 46 but none of them could assure the report within 24 hours.

I eventually had to travel without the report and get the test done at the border facility, as opposed to friends in Gurgaon, who didn’t just get the test done on 1 April afternoon but also got the results on the morning of 2 April.
Sejal Pandey

Long Delays, No Confirmation

The most common problem, however, appears to be that of long delays in getting RT-PCR test results. Samples collected by government-run testing centres is sent to private and government labs for testing. Labs are supposed to send the results in minimum 24 hours and a maximum of 48 hours or face action.

Results from SpiceHealth, which currently receives about 25,000 samples a day, are getting delayed, officials said, according to a report by The Hindu.

The report quoted a Delhi government official as saying, “There were delays from SpiceHealth even in March, but the samples being sent were few and the COVID-19 situation was not this dire. But since the beginning of April, SpiceHealth is giving most reports after 48 hours and many not even after 72 hours. Most districts have complained this.”

On its official website SpiceHealth said that they were “inundated” with RT-PCR samples to test due to the “sudden spike” in COVID-19, The Hindu reported.

Waseem, 32, an IT professional from Rampur in Uttar Pradesh, said he went into self-isolation last week after developing symptoms and got the test done on 9 April. More than 72 hours later, he has no clarity on how long it would take to get the result.

“I have twin babies and elderly mother at home,” Waseem told The Quint, adding that he had not received any communication from anyone. I am looking for the report online, but still it shows ‘result awaited’.”

Arun Kumar, who runs a tailoring business in west Delhi, has a similar story. Both Arun and Waseem got tested at government facilities. “It has been a week and I still don’t know when the results will arrive,” Kumar told The Quint.

Travellers Left in the Lurch

Taking suo moto cognizance of the worsening COVID-19 situation in the state, the Gujarat High Court on Monday, 12 April, rapped the state and the Centre, asking why people were having to struggle for facilities like RT-PCR tests and availability of beds in hospitals, while “officers can get RT-PCR report within hours”.

Calling it a health emergency, the HC asked why the common man was having to stand in queues while the government was claiming ample availability of beds and oxygen.

The delays in test results has hit travellers hard. Those travelling abroad and to certain airports within the country have to mandatorily carry negative RT-PCR test results made available within the last 72 hours. However, with significant delays, many travellers have had to either cancel or change their travel plans.

Gurupratap Suri, who was in Nainital, had to fly back to Dubai with his family on 10 April at 4 pm. Since UAE accepts only ICMR-approved lab reports and no such labs are available in Uttarakhand, he booked a test through a Gurgaon-based lab that takes samples in Nainital.

“The sample was taken at 12 pm on 8 April and they promised to deliver the reports on the night of April 9. However, the report was not delivered. On the morning of 10 April, we called the lab, but no one could answer us whether we would get the reports on time,” Suri said.

Given the little time they had, Suri decided to change flights if the reports didn't show up by 2 pm. “Thankfully, we got reports at 1.45 pm after several phone calls,” Suri said.

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