Maharashtra recorded more than 6,000 new Covid-19 infections and a record 24-hour spike in cases for the second consecutive day on Friday, as the state’s tally rose by 6,364 to 192,990. The state reported 198 fatalities, including 48 from previous weeks, taking its toll to 4,762.
Mumbai, the worst-hit city in Maharashtra, recorded 1,338 new cases, taking its case count to 82,074. The state health department reconciled data for Sangli and 37 patients who were earlier recorded there were added to Mumbai’s tally. The city reported 73 deaths in the past 48 hours, taking its toll to 4,762.
Senior government officials, on condition of anonymity, said the state is witnessing an increase in cases owing to targeted testing. These officials and independent experts said though there has been an increase in cases, the tally isn’t rising exponentially.
State health minister Rajesh Tope said the state’s case curve could flatten by August. Tope said several changes have been made in guidelines for testing and that no inferences can be made based on the positivity rate.
“Earlier, tests included immediate contacts, neighbours, etc. Therefore the strike rate from these tests was lower. Now our tests are targeted and so the percentage is higher. We have augmented testing capacity across the state and are still adding laboratories. We expect the numbers to flatten by early August,” Tope said.
In the past 14 days, the positivity rate in the state has been ranging between 19% and 27%. In the first three days of July, the positivity rate of the state has been 21.09% (July 1), 22.90% (July 2) and 22.01% (July 3). The overall positivity rate in the state stands at 18.39%.One of the officials said the state has not yet reached its peak. “There is no denying that the infection has spread widely. It is also true that we have not reached the peak yet as there are newer hot spots mushrooming. There are multiple reasons for the high positivity rate [of late]. We have increased our daily testing from 13,000 per day on June 22 to 27,000-28,000. We do targeted testing as per ICMR guidelines,” said the official.
The state has 115 testing laboratories, including private laboratories, and has the capacity to test 38,000 samples daily. On June 22, the state tested 13,554 samples and reported 3,721 cases which is a positivity rate of 27.45%. From June 24, the daily tests increased and more than 20,000 samples have been tested every day since then.
A senior state bureaucrat dismissed speculations that the state is not utilising its testing capacity fully as it could lead to more numbers. The bureaucrat said tests will have to remain “targeted”. “Our testing capacity is 38,000 samples per day, but testing will have to remain focused on high-risk contacts and other immediate contacts. Random testing is not in the guidelines and it won’t yield any result. Contact tracing is lax in several parts. Our goal is 1:15 (15 contacts for one Covid-19 patient), but data shows we do not go beyond four to five high-risk contacts,” the bureaucrat said. Dr Om Shrivastav, an infectious diseases expert with Jaslok Hospital, said, “The principle of the World Health Organization (WHO) and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has been more tests will lead to more cases. Therefore, we are seeing more cases being reported. However, the positivity rate is not a concern as much as the mortality rate is.”
Dr Lancelot Pinto, an epidemiologist from Hinduja Hospital, said the increase in positivity rate is not alarming. “As of today, it does not seem that there is a huge spike waiting for us around the corner. We have not down-turned that’s a fact, but we are not ascending rapidly as well. The increase in positivity rate could also be a reflection of relaxation in testing parameters by the government,” he said.
Tope said there are two lacunas that he had found in all interactions with collectors and commissioners. “One is tracing; we only get 1:6 as against our target of 15 contacts per patient. The second issue is home quarantine in slums. They need to have an institutional quarantine facility to stem the spread in densely populated areas. I visited Bhiwandi and Badlapur and have instructed the local administration on similar lines,” said the minister. Currently, Maharashtra has 5,89,448 patients in home quarantine and 42,371 in institutional quarantine facilities.
The state’s testing capacity is also being further augmented. Looking at the sharp spike in cases in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), the state has decided to add one laboratory each in Bhiwandi, Badlapur, Ulhasnagar, Mira-Bhayander and in Thane district, said Tope. “Testing has increased in several cities. Mumbai daily tests around 4,500, while Pune tests about 6,000 samples daily. Jalgaon, which was testing 100 samples earlier, now tests 500, similarly Nagpur, which was 400 samples a day, now tests 1,500 daily,” an official from the health department said.
Meanwhile, 3,515 people were discharged on Friday which took the total count of recovered patients to 104,687. The recovery rate in the state stands at 54.24%.