Three crore Covid tests later, where does India stand?

For much of the first few months of the pandemic, India was criticised for its restrictive testing criteria and low number of tests in global comparison.

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As India reached three crore tests, the last crore of those were conducted in just two weeks. (Photo: PTI)
As India reached three crore tests, the last crore of those were conducted in just two weeks. (Photo: PTI)

This is one milestone India will be happy to have hit. On August 17, India announced that it had reached 3 crore tests, thus, becoming only the fourth country for which testing data is available, to have conducted as many tests after China, the United States and Russia. The only caveat: a large share of India's recent increase in testing could be from less reliable antigen tests.

For much of the first few months of the pandemic, India was criticised for its restrictive testing criteria and low number of tests in global comparison. By the end of May, only 52 out of 215 countries for which testing data was available were testing fewer people than India relative to their populations. No country with a major burden was testing fewer people per million population than India.

That situation has changed drastically over the last month. As India reached three crore tests, the last crore of those were conducted in just two weeks. The first crore had come in 164 days and the second in 27 days.

Over these last two weeks, India has been testing over six lakh people almost each day, a big step up from the end of May when it was testing less than one lakh people each day.

But is India testing enough?

Even with the increase, India has still conducted fewer tests proportionate to its population than most other high burden countries except Mexico. At present, India is conducting 21,742 tests per million population. Around the world, 123 countries have tested more people proportionate to their populations than India, including Iraq.

However, India's test positivity rate of 9 per cent is relatively low; just a handful of high-burden countries such as Russia, Spain and United States have a lower share of cases relative to tests.

So far, India's test positivity has been rising steadily, but this could change and it isn't necessarily a good sign. Since June, the Indian Council of Medical Research has been nudging states to scale up their testing by adding rapid antigen tests that are quicker and cheaper.

While this has bumped up numbers for many states, it's also possibly affecting positivity rates, as antigen tests are significantly less sensitive than RT-PCR tests. What share of the new tests is the gold standard RT-PCR is not known; in states such as Delhi, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh where the data is available, antigen tests have taken over testing.

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