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Covid-19: Why daily test numbers continue to fall

  • Published at 02:42 pm September 3rd, 2020
coronavirus test MHO
File photo: People wait in queue for hours - with no regard for social distancing - to get tested for Covid-19 at the Central Police Hospital in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The photo was taken recently Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

In the month of August, tests per day crossed 15,000-mark twice

Bangladesh has been witnessing a downward trend in Covid-19 testing since early July, although the number of total tests per day saw an upward trend till end of June.

The country recorded the highest number of coronavirus tests – 18,498 – conducted in a span of 24-hours on June 26, under the supervision of Bangladeshi health authorities.

On the last day of June, Bangladesh recorded the second highest testing count in a day with 18,426 samples tested in 68 government-approved public and private facilities across the country.

Although the health authorities have been struggling to reach the capacity of testing 20,000 samples a day, other government decisions have pushed down the trend of testing for the novel coronavirus infection.

Imposing fees on testing

As soon as health authorities imposed fees on testing at government-run facilities through a circular on June 28 to “avoid unnecessary tests and ensure better management,” the number of tests being performed per day came down significantly.

Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) Additional Director General Prof Dr Nasima Sultana acknowledged the issue to the Dhaka Tribune.

On July 13, at a daily virtual health briefing, she indicated that peoples’ reluctance towards testing came as most of them recovered from panic centering the virus and mass discouragement of second-time testing to confirm the recovery of a patient if symptoms disappear after a stipulated time, as per World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.

Her remark came a day after the country of over 160 million people watched the overall downfall of testing from 18,000 at the beginning of that month to 11,000 on July 11 and 12.

A total of 12,423 tests were conducted on July 13, the day Nasima made her comment regarding the sharp decline in testing across the country.

The total number of samples tested a day crossed the 14,000-mark only twice in July from then, one on July 15 and the next on July 29.

In the month of August, tests per day crossed 15,000-mark twice.

On August 27, 15,124 tests were conducted, higher than the average of 12,045 tests per day throughout the month. 

Month

Days

Total tests

Average tests per day on the month

Testing centres on month-end

March

24

1,591

65

06

April

30

62,826

2,094

28

May

31

2,44,264

7,880

52

June

30

4,57,530

15,251

68

July

31

4,10,349

13,237

82

August

31

3,73,394

12,045

92

It should also be mentioned that Bangladesh became the only country to impose a fee for Covid-19 testing in government facilities among the South Asian neighbouring countries.  

Numbers of new cases fall as testing decreases

The country also witnessed a fall in the number of new infections with the decrease in Covid-19 testing.

If we take a look at infection milestones, Bangladesh topped 50,000 confirmed cases on June 1, almost two months after the first cases in the country were officially reported on March 8.

The next 50,000 new cases took only 17 days to reach, taking the total tally to 100,000 cases.

Another 50,000 cases were recorded in the last 13 days of the month of June, and on July 1, the country has over 150,000 confirmed cases.

In the first 16 days of July, another 50,000 new cases were recorded and then the infection rate seemed to have slowed down a little by taking 20 days to post another 50,000 confirmed cases by August 6.

However, in the month of August, the trend showed mixed results. Although it took another 19 days to cross the next 50,000 to reach 300,000 confirmed cases in the country, the daily tests were comparatively lower than before.

Lowest number of testing on Eid days

The numbers of Covid-19 testing were very low during the two Eid vacations during the pandemic.

During Eid-ul-Adha on August 1, data released the next day showed 886 new cases were identified among 3,684 samples tested on the day.

During Eid-ul-Fitr on May 25, testing and the number of new cases were low, but not as low as during Eid-ul-Adha in August.

Data released on May 26 showed that 5,407 samples were collected from the mid of the previous day to that day, where 1,166 samples were identified as positive.

A total of 8,802 and 4,249 tests were recorded respectively for the previous and following day of Eid-ul-Adha in August, while 9,451 and 8,015 tests were recorded on days before and after the day of Eid-ul-Fitr respectively.

Experts say this was due to the fact that people were more engaged in celebrating the festivals and there was a pause in sample collection during the holidays, although testing booths and other related facilities were officially ordered to keep open.

Inactivity of testing facilities

In June, 16 centres were added to the list of testing facilities while another 14 centres were commissioned in the month of July.

In the month of August, 10 testing centres were added, but surprisingly operations of 13 facilities among a total of 92 centres in the country came to a halt, as informed by the DGHS.

On September 2, nine out of 93 testing facilities did not test any sample. Health experts at different times claimed this inactivity of centres could be a reason behind the falling numbers of the daily tests.

Prof Nasima said that it was necessary for laboratories to shut operations temporarily to ensure decontamination.

“The labs then turn off their operation and resume after ensuring decontamination,” she told this correspondent.

“Sometimes, there were some technical issues. Some government-approved private laboratories have to stop testing due to lack of samples collected. After collecting a satisfactory number of samples, they run the RT-PCR machine on the next day,” Nasima added.

“But public facilities continue their operation with any number of samples as they get sufficient numbers and do not need to stop testing except for technical issues,” she told Dhaka Tribune.

Infection rate drops at the end of August

On average, the first 20 days of August showed an infection rate of over 20%. However, that rate showed a declining trend when the number of daily new cases was compared to the daily number of samples tested. 

Mentionable, it was 31.91% on August 3, which dropped to 15.9% by August 30.

Prof Nasima identified the government imposed fee on testing and new guidelines for second time testing as one of the main reasons for a decline in daily tests.

“In fact, the contamination rate is showing a downward trend as well, if you will check the situation report of Bangladesh made by WHO,” the former acting chief of DGHS added.

 “We are always trying to increase the testing facility as per the demand,” she insured.

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