The fall in testing in these two major cities impacted the state’s daily testing levels too during this period, which plunged by nearly 70%.
Public health experts, who had urged officials to keep up the testing during the festival period, have now said the two weeks after Diwali will be an “acid test” for Maharashtra.
The new data was arrived at by comparing the average daily testing between November 1-13 with the average from November 14 to 17.
Daily testing has been dropping steadily. In September, Pune city was averaging 13,000 daily tests, which dropped to nearly 8,000 earlier this month. But on November 15, it hit a worrying low of 2,898.
In Mumbai, daily testing went from nearly 13,000 in early November to less than 4,000 on November 15.
The state’s director of health services, Archana Patil, said the overall drop in testing has sparked worry.
Patil said, “Average testing in both cities has dropped considerably. It needs to pick up as the next two weeks are most crucial. We were carrying over 90,000 to 1 lakh tests in September. In October, we were at around 60,000-70,000 tests per day. But there has been a 70% reduction in testing during Diwali, which is a major concern.”
She said she has issued orders asking officials in Pune, Mumbai and Thane – where cases are still high – to immediately increase testing after the festival. On Wednesday, November 18, there were some signs of recovery when state data showed daily testing had increased to 53,000 from 25,000. “But there is still a long way to go,” Patil said.
Dr Shashank Joshi, a member of the state’s Covid-19 task force, said testing over the next two weeks will be vital, considering that temperatures have been dropping in many parts of Maharashtra.
“If we see a spike in cases in these two weeks, we know we are seeing what we experienced after the Ganesh festival. We need to ensure our guard is up,” he said.
Dr Joshi also warned against skipping tests. “It’s an alarming trend that has come to our notice – people are starting to treat themselves without getting tests. This is dangerous. If it continues, we’ll never have a clear picture if numbers rise.”
He added that testing should not be limited to those approaching labs or those with clear symptoms. “We cannot stop contact tracing. Clearly, the formula of testing, tracing and tracking cannot be ignored,” he said.
Mumbai’s additional municipal commissioner Suresh Kakani said that testing has picked up since Diwali. “The testing figures improved to 11,493 on Wednesday. We will be carrying out more tests in the coming days,” he said.
Past president of MCCIA Pradeep Bharghava said that Pune administration is giving the wrong signal of a premature victory over covid by systematically reducing testing from around 15,000 in mid September to 8,000 in mid October and to 5,700 last week to 2,800 this week while average Positivity rate this week is high at 12%. While the country continues to test around 10 lakhs per day in this period even with latest positivity rate of 3.8% after 8.5% in mid October, it is surprising that the city has reduced testing,” says Bharghava. While death numbers have come down significantly, containment of future challenges is diluted by reduced testing and this needs to be set right, he said.