The Telangana High Courts latest order allowing private hospitals and laboratories to conduct Covid-19 tests has come as another blow to the state government already under all-round fire for its woeful record on testing.
Setting aside the government order authorising only the state-run hospitals to conduct the tests, the high court on Wednesday ruled that the citizens have the right to undergo the tests and get the treatment in private hospitals if they can afford to pay for the same. A division bench termed the government order as ‘undemocratic' and dismissed the argument that allowing private hospitals to conduct the tests could lead to exploitation of people's fears.
The court orders on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) came at a time when the government is already under attack for one of the lowest number of tests in the country and thus allegedly concealing the true picture.
Only last week the high court had directed the state government to conduct tests on dead bodies. The direction came on two PILs against a circular issued by the Director of Medical Education not to conduct tests on dead bodies.
Dealing with another PIL, the court rapped the government for fewer tests and wondered how it would get a true picture of the spread of Covid-19 in the state. The court also wondered why the government is restricting the number of tests when the health experts all over the world are calling for more tests.
Till May 14, Telangana conducted only 22,842 Covid-19 tests, one of the lowest in the country. Its neighbour Andhra Pradesh has so far conducted 2.67 lakh tests. Tamil Nadu has conducted 3.47 lakh tests and Maharashtra 2.9 lakh tests.
The Telangana government is also under flak for not revealing the number of tests done in its daily bulletin.
It's not just experts, activists, political parties and courts which are questioning the government for doing fewer tests. Even the Centre has found fault with it.
Union health secretary Preeti Sudan, in a letter to Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar, said lack of proactive testing will not help the state contain Covid-19.
She pointed out that Telangana has a higher positivity rate (5.26 per cent) than the national average (4.12 per cent). Positivity rate is the ratio of positive diagnosis to the number of tests conducted.
As of May 14, Telangana conducted 22,842 tests of which 1,388 were found positive. The all India figures for the same day stood at 19,47,041 with 78,057 positive cases.
It was pointed out that Telagana accounted for just 1.5 per cent or 20,754 of more than 14 lakh RT PCR (real time polymerase chain reaction) tests carried out nationwide.
Sudan also highlighted the fact that Telangana's tally of tests per million population was far lower than that of other states as well as the national average between April 30 and May 6. While the all India testing average was 1,025 per million population, the figure for Telangana was only 546.
Following the court orders and the letter by the health secretary, the opposition stepped up its attacks on Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government.
State Congress president Uttam Kumar Reddy claimed that since lockdown 1.0, his party had been reminding the TRS government that it is not doing adequate number of tests. "Telangana chief minister KCR is acting like a dictator and he is hell bent on covering up the real extent of Covid in the state," he said.
BJP's state unit, which had even lodged a complaint with the governor and the Centre over the issue, feels vindicated.
"We have been saying that the TRS government is manipulating Covid-19 infection rate since the beginning and more so after the second week of April. Now we stand vindicated," said BJP leader Krishna Saagar Rao. He demanded resignation of Health Minister Eatala Rajender for endangering the entire population of Telangana by intentionally conducting fewer tests.
However, Rajender is unfazed by the criticism and still maintains that the state is following the guidelines given by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
The state government has taken the stand that it can't go for random testing as this would create panic among people.
"Some people with or without knowledge are making allegations that we are not conducting tests. The test has to be done on those with symptoms of Covid and not everybody," the health minister said.
He pointed out that ICMR framed the guidelines after taking into consideration the best practices followed in other countries.
He claimed that the accuracy of the testing done in the state is at par with countries like the US. "In US out of every 100 tests, there are 16.1 positive cases. In our state for every 100 tests there are 6 positive cases."
The minister also pointed out that the virus in India is not as lethal as in the US, Belgium, France and Italy.
He claimed that the state contained the spread of the virus with effective implementation of lockdown, tracing the foreign returnees and those who came from other parts of the country and testing those with suspected symptoms.
As of May 20, Telangana reported 1,661 Covid cases including 40 deaths. With 1,013 of these cases cured and discharged from hospitals, the state claims to have the best recovery rate in the state but this ‘achievement' appears to have been clouded by the row over fewer tests.