Ten months after the Covid-19 pandemic struck, India is averaging more than nine lakh tests daily. This is a substantial improvement over the early days but inter-state restrictions in transporting samples, delays in getting reports, lack of adequate lab processing capacities in different towns and cities, highly priced RT-PCR tests on the one hand and unreasonable price caps on the other, are all combining to create bottlenecks.
Riya Kapoor, who lives in Bangalore, has been waiting for her test results for a week now. “The laboratory people say that test slots have been limited due to issues in lab processing of swabs and hence the delay,” she told ET.
In Delhi, in comparison, test reports are usually available within 24 hours, says Max Labs principal director Poonam Das. “We have so far done 110,000 tests. Tests are available on demand and patients can request a test by walking into an authorised collection centre, a flu clinic in a hospital or requesting a home sample collection. At the time of taking the sample, the patient needs to give a government issued identity card. No prescription is needed anymore,” she said.
Neighbouring Noida, however, has issues regarding collections of home samples. “You have to take approval from the chief medical officer (CMO) for collection of samples. Only after this approval comes, can samples be collected. So labs are hesitant to pick up samples from Noida,” said an executive of an NCR lab, who did not wish to be quoted.
A CEO of a private lab told ET that the issue of home collection of samples was particularly cumbersome in states such as UP. A Dr Lal Path Labs spokesperson said the company was operating in all major cities including Dehi, Kolkata, Indore, Patna, Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai. “Initially we were moving samples around but now with every state having the testing facility we are not doing it anymore. The charges vary from Rs 1,600-2,400,” the spokesperson said.
People getting tests done continue to complain of being overcharged. Media professional Swathi V said she had to spend around Rs 7,000 for two people from a private lab to get RT-PCR tests done for two of her close relatives in Hyderabad. Even when the samples are not collected from home, walk in charges are to the tune of Rs 2,500, she said. Private labs, on the other hand, are apprehensive about price caps being imposed by individual states. With the state government reducing prices of the Covid test, a private lab owner said companies such as his will soon walk away from Covid testing. “Uttar Pradesh has brought down the price to Rs 900 per test. If this is adopted in other states too, private laboratories will stop Covid testing completely,” he said.