The Delhi High Court expressed unhappiness with the decline in the number of RT-PCR tests for Covid-19 infection in the national capital and the non-availability of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) advisory, which empowers government and private doctors to prescribe the aforementioned test, in the official website of the Delhi government.
A division bench of Justices Hima Kohli and S. Prasad, on Monday, observed that the combined capacity of the private sector and public sector laboratories in Delhi is 54 where approximately 11,000 RT-PCR tests can be conducted on a daily basis.
The court expressed its shock after taking note of the fact that the number of RT PCR tests for Covid-19 infection conducted between July 15 to July 23 are below 6000.
"...almost 50 per cent capacity of the RT PCR tests are not being conducted in Delhi. The focus seems to be mainly on testing through RAT (rapid antigen tests) whereas RT PCR is the gold standard test," the court said.
Petitioner and advocate, Rakesh Malhotra, who appeared in person, stated that contrary to the advisories dated June 14 and June 2, issued by the ICMR, the Delhi Government has issued orders dated July 5, and July 9, directing that RAT should be conducted on certain high-risk group of individuals who visit health care facilities, which includes patients admitted with Severe Acute Respiratory Infection (SARI).
The petitioner stated the ICMR advisory is clear in this regard and states that the recommendation is to conduct RAT in containment zones/hotspots and health care settings, but it nowhere states that the testing through RT-PCR should be dispensed with.
The court also noted that the circular dated July 1, jointly issued by the ICMR and the Ministry of Health is not available on the website of the Delhi Government. ICMR, in that advisory, had clarified that not only doctors from the government sector but doctors from the private sector are also empowered to prescribe the RT-PCR test.
"The least we expect Delhi Government to do is to regularly update its website and upload all the advisories, circulars, etc. issued by the ICMR, and other authorities, relating to COVID-19 news, to keep the public well informed," the court said.
"Press alone cannot be the medium for disseminating information. This is not to state that the press has not played a positive role in publicizing information relating to COVID-19," it added.
Sujeet Singh, Director, National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), who was present in the hearing submitted that the Seroprevalence studies of cases goes to indicate that higher the density of population in a district, larger the number of cases of COVID19 infection.
Singh recommended increasing the testing through the RT PCR mode for the public rather than the RAT.
"However, for those who are to be admitted or propose to undergo surgical/non-surgical procedures in hospitals, the order of testing should be RAT followed by RT-PCR with the idea that the RAT results are faster and therefore, the follow-up treatment can be expedited," Singh said.
ICMR told the court that it is going issue a fresh advisory very soon and the Delhi Government has informed the court that NCDC and Delhi government are going to conduct a meeting soon to plan further strategies for ramping up the testing to contain COVID-19 infection.
The court asked ICMR, NCDC and the Delhi Government to file fresh status reports before the next date of hearing and listed the matter for further hearing on August 4.