Delayed survey data blurs India's coronavirus picture – thanks to faulty Chinese testing kits
Another factor that has hindered the collection of the data is that Indian health authorities have been more focused on testing high-risk groups and containment, and slow in efforts to mount systematic surveillance, said two members of a research group advising the Indian government.
Poor Chinese testing kits made India lose two weeks in its bid to get a picture of the spread of the novel coronavirus in its population, complicating a decision on opening up from a lockdown, a member of a national task force has said.
The kits were for antibodies to the virus, meaning authorities could determine who had been exposed to it as part of a broad survey to assess its spread. But hundreds of thousands of kits had to be returned to China after inconsistent results, and the government does not have all of the data it should have to decide on how and when to loosen the lockdown, first imposed on March 25.
So far, COVID-19 has killed 2,649 people and infected 81,970 in the country.
"We would have known the extent of infections, how much is the spread, about two weeks back. The delay is about two weeks," Dr Manoj Murhekar, a task force member and director of the National Institute of Epidemiology, told Reuters on Thursday.
A survey of 24,000 people was now underway with indigenously developed test kits and data would be available by the end of May, he said.
Two members of a research group advising the government said the delay caused by the inconsistent Chinese kits was longer than two weeks.
Two other members of the group said another factor that has hindered the collection of the data is that health authorities have been more focused on testing high-risk groups and containment, and slow in efforts to mount systematic surveillance.
"Without surveillance data, you are really flying blind," one of the members said.
As per the Health Ministry, this week systematic surveillance was starting in selected districts.
China criticised India's complaint about the kits as "unfair" and "irresponsible".
'GREEN' AREAS ARE KEY
Data from the survey across 60 districts will help authorities better understand the spread and concentration of infections and improve the response, the research group members said.
More cases are expected as the government eases the stay-at-home restrictions on the 1.3 billion population.
To conduct the survey, India's more than 700 districts will be divided into four groups depending on the number of confirmed cases, and 15 will be selected from each category, one of the members said.
Then, tests will be conducted in clusters, with 400 people from each of the 60 districts tested.
The survey should provide data that can be used to track the disease's trajectory over time in a given area, or used to compare one area's situation to another.
"This is the first thing you're supposed to do," one of the research group members said, according to Reuters.
Murhekar said the data should show the spread of the virus, particularly in "green zones" -- areas with no confirmed cases or none for 28 days -- under the government's colour-coding system.
"The main advantage would been in green areas. Are they really green?" Murhekar said.
After the 60 districts are surveyed, another 10 cities with the most number of infections would be assessed, he said.
While authorities await the delayed data, Murhekar said they still had the results from India's tally of about 2 million people tested to categorise districts.
"It is not that we absolutely do not know anything about the transmission of the disease," he said.