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Concerns about false RT-PCR negatives flagged at high-level govt meeting on Covid

At meeting chaired by Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, MoS Ashwini Kumar Choubey flagged reports of patients showing signs of Covid-related lung damage and yet testing negative.

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New Delhi: In a high-level government review meeting Friday, there were concerns flagged about multiple RT-PCR tests coming out negative in patients showing symptoms of Covid-19.

In the review meeting with central government hospitals in Delhi and AIIMS, chaired by Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, Minister of State for Health Ashwini Kumar Choubey raised the issue.

This comes just days after the Centre put out a statement that the RT-PCR test does not miss the UK, Brazilian and South African variants of the virus.

According to sources, Choubey said there have been many reports coming in of people who tested negative in RT-PCR despite showing signs of Covid-related lung damage in CT scans. He expressed concern that this could be a serious impediment in the Covid management strategy going forward.

AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleria, who was also present at the meeting, explained that many factors decide the results of an RT-PCR test, including whether the sample has been collected from the patient in a proper manner. Human errors play a significant role in a test returning erroneous results, he said.

“The minister asked whether the reliability of the test is doubtful at which Dr Guleria explained that if the nasal or the throat swab is collected superficially then there is a chance that the test would fail to detect the presence of the virus,” an official, who was present in the meeting, told ThePrint.

The meeting was also attended by officials from Safdarjung Hospital, Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) Hospital and Lady Hardinge Medical College (LHMC).

Also read: B.1.117 to B.1.618, India has many Covid variants causing infections. Here are the dominant ones

‘RT-PCR detects all variants’

On 16 April, the Ministry of Health had issued a statement, which noted that concerns about the RT-PCR tests missing some of the SARS-CoV-2 variants were misplaced.

The statement listed out the UK (17 mutations), Brazilian (17 mutations), and South African (12 mutations) variants as those with higher transmissibility circulating in the country.

The ministry also clarified that while the double mutant strain is also in circulation, it is yet to be established if it is more infectious.

“The RT PCR tests being used in India do not miss these mutations as the RTPCR tests being used in India target more than two genes. Sensitivity and specificity of the RTPCR tests remains the same as earlier,” the statement said.

Also read: In UP, oxygen is now exclusive for hospitals. Patients in home isolation not getting any

‘Reserve beds for doctors in hospitals’

At the review meeting, Dr Harsh Vardhan was also informed about the additional beds being added to the central government hospitals in Delhi.

Safdarjung Hospital is adding 172 more Covid beds, taking the total number of beds to 391, RML is making provisions for 200 additional beds while 240 more beds are being set up in LHMC by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

According to Dr Guleria, AIIMS plans to add 1,000 beds for Covid-19 by expanding the capacity in their Burns and Plastic Surgery Centre, National Cancer Institute in Jhajjar, Dr. R.P. Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences and the geriatric wards.

Choubey also expressed concerns on the dire shortage of beds in the national capital and urged the government to take steps to reserve beds for doctors and nurses who attend to Covid patients, get infected in the line of duty and end up running from pillar to post to get a bed for themselves.

“The minister made a plea that beds should be kept reserved for healthcare workers who have been through a very tough year and continue to serve the community without any thought of their own safety,” the source quoted above said.

Referring to reports that many Covid patients are returned from hospitals without any medicines, he urged the government to ensure that all patients are provided with medicines from the central government hospitals.

“The minister said that people are waiting outside government hospitals while their relatives run to get medicines that have been prescribed by doctors there. It is imperative, he said that at least in government hospitals provisions are made so that the medicines are available to patients in the hospitals without them having to go looking for it,” the official said.

(Edited by Rachel John)

Also read: Delhi’s Ganga Ram hospital says 30 patients didn’t die due to oxygen crisis, were critical


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