Shortage of VTMs squeezes PCR testing in Province 1Contrary to the provincial government’s declaration to conduct 1,000 PCR tests per day, the province in its entirety has the capacity to perform only 450 swab tests on a daily basis.
With the increase in the number of coronavirus cases of late, the chorus of demand for increasing the scope of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests has reverberated across the nation. However, authorities are found fumbling with the responsibility to deliver.
Under growing public pressure, Sherdhan Rai, chief minister of Province 1, had declared his government’s plan to expand PCR tests in the province. That was three months ago. Contrary to the provincial government’s declaration to conduct 1,000 PCR tests per day, the province in its entirety has not increased its capacity of 450 daily tests. Koshi Hospital, Provincial Public Health Laboratory and BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences are the three health institutions where these tests are performed.
On Monday alone, the test results of 57 swab samples collected from the province came positive for Covid-19. With this, the number of Covid-19 infected in Province 1 has reached 1,128.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Law, out of the total infected, 256 people had no travel history, which indicates the presence of community transmissions.
“According to health experts, there are cases without any travel history in the province, indicating local and community transmissions of the coronavirus,” said Minister for Internal Affairs and Law Hikmat Karki.
But the provincial and local governments have so far failed to expand the test range.
The people’s representatives say they haven’t been able to increase the PCR tests for a lack of Viral Transport Medium. According to them, the provincial government hasn’t distributed sufficient numbers of VTMs.
Bhim Parajuli, mayor of Biratnagar Metropolis, said swab collection has gained momentum in the last 10 days, but the metropolis is reeling under the shortage of the VTMs.
“We have started to trace infected individuals by imposing lockdown in the metropolis. It is necessary to test as many people as possible but we haven’t got sufficient VTMs,” said Parajuli, adding that the municipality now plans to buy VTMs and start conducting tests in the municipality itself. “We will be able to purchase VTMs worth Rs 500,000 immediately.”
Locals in Biratnagar are scared following a sudden rise in the number of coronavirus cases.
Anju Dahal, a resident of Biratnagar Ward No. 5, said: “One person has already died of coronavirus in our settlement. We requested the local authorities to conduct PCR tests, but they told us they were only testing on the basis of contract tracing due to the lack of VTMs.”
“The infected individuals were active members of the local community here. They were shopkeepers and grocery store owners and the public were in regular contact with them,” said Mahendra Sah of Biratnagar Ward No. 17. “The virus has spread in the settlement. Almost every individual in our ward has been going to the places where the infected people used to go. We have requested the metropolis to run tests on everyone and not just on those traced through contact tracing.”
Meanwhile, officials at the city office said it’s the responsibility of the provincial and federal governments to conduct tests and manage isolation centres and Covid-19 hospitals.
“The local unit is only responsible for the management of the quarantine facility and we are doing that effectively. We have WHO certified quarantines here. The metropolis has completed its duty. It’s now time for the provincial and federal governments to show their presence,” said Parajuli.
Almost all districts in Province 1 are facing a shortage of VTMs. Ilam and Jhapa are the two districts that have been reporting a rise in coronavirus cases in the recent days. But swab collection was stopped in Ilam on Monday due to the shortage of VTMs.
Bimal Baral, a focal person at the District Health Office in Ilam, said, “We understand the importance of conducting swab testing at the community level but we do not have enough VTMs.”
Similarly, Jeevan Chamlagain, an official at the District Health Office in Jhapa, said, “We are facing a shortage of VTMs, PPEs and other support equipment when it is increasingly becoming more important to start swab testing at the community level.”
Jeevan Ghimire, minister of social development in Province 1, however, claimed the province does not have VTM shortages.
“The ministry has been distributing VTMs conditionally so as to stop their misuse. The collected swab samples should be tested within 72 hours of collection, otherwise it is rendered useless. We are providing VTM sets only after evaluating the necessity and demand of the local units,” said Ghimire.
According to the data of the Ministry of Social Development, 45,771 PCR tests have been done in the province until Monday. 829 individuals, out of 1,128 individuals who tested positive for coronavirus, have recovered so far, the data showed.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of September 22, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. Covid-19 has spread to 213 countries and territories around the world and infected more than 31,405,983 people with 967,505 deaths and 22,990,260 recoveries. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 5,557,573 with 88,943 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 306,304 confirmed cases with 6,420 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 65,276 cases with 427 deaths.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.