Kerala’s fetish for antigen tests continues as new cases rise


Kerala has not made any radical change from what critics have described as the ‘wrong policy’ on the Covid-19 diagnosis front. A ‘misplaced but convenient’ thrust on antigen tests in preference to the ‘gold standard’ though costlier RT-PCR tests, which is blamed for its ‘faltering’ containment strategy.

This is despite the State government’s decision in January end to ramp up daily tests to a lakh from levels of half as many to check the runaway spiral in new cases that had elevated it to the highest among states on multiple occasions, and bring back the test positivity rate from the stubborn double-digit levels.

Raising RT-PCR tests to 75%

A series of decisions to this effect was taken at a review meeting convened here by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. It proposed to drastically increase the number of RT-PCR tests to 75 per cent from the prevailing 20-25 per cent, but seldom been persisted with during February-April.

Daily statistics now reveal that during the period from February 10 (a week and more after the review meeting was held) to April 6, the RT-PCR number crossed 53 per cent of the aggregate. Worse, the RT-PCR number had plummeted to 38 per cent from February to the first week of March.

The number touched 53 per cent in the second week of March but has hit a trough ever since. This period also coincided with the declaration of Assembly elections in the state, following which it plunged headlong into campaign politics when Covid-19 protocols have been observed in their breach.

Assembly election campaign

This is believed to be translating into a resurgence of the Covid-19 virus with rising daily new cases, whose elevated numbers from a predecessor spiral following the local body elections in December had thawed in February but are now thought to be returning to haunt the state three months later.

The test positivity rate is now above five per cent after the state had managed to pull it back from the stubborn double-digit levels during December-January to below three per cent during February-March.

It is in this context that the Prime Minister has called a meeting with the states on Thursday.

On Wednesday, the State Health Department had appealed to all stakeholders to adhere strictly to the Covid-19 protocols since the SSLC and Plus Two examinations are slated to begin from Thursday. The appeal was made after a review meeting convened here by VP Joy, Chief Secretary.

SSLC examinations begin

Students, teachers, and school employees should wear N-95 or three-layer cloth mask. Hands should be washed thoroughly with soap for 20 seconds before entering the examination hall and exiting it. Sanitisers should be made available in the examination hall. Windows of examination halls should be left open to ensure adequate ventilation. Physical distancing should be ensured while seating students.

Students with symptoms such as fever, cold and cough or those coming from households where people are in quarantine should be seated in a separate room. Examination halls, benches, and desks should be disinfected after the examination. Students should bring own drinking water and whatever they need.

Adherence to protocols

They should not share any tangible item. Those with Covid-19 symptoms should use only the toilets allotted to them. Students should exit the examination halls only in queues and not crowd around with friends. Students from containment zones or hotspots, those yet to complete quarantine, and those with minor symptoms should inform the examination centre authorities about these in advance.

Parents are best advised not to accompany students. If need be, only one parent should accompany a student. Outside the hall, they should wear masks, maintain distancing and not crowd around and wait in their own vehicle till the examination is over. Parents and students should avoid visiting shops and instead remember to bring along food and water.



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