Bangladesh needs to carry out at least 20,000 Covid-19 tests per day, and the recent alarming rise in infections requires a further ramping up of the testing procedure.
In reality, though, the number of coronavirus tests has been falling steadily for the past few days.
According to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), 17,527 tests – the highest number in a single day so far – were carried out on June 17. Since then, 16,259 tests were conducted on June 18, 15,045 on June 19 and 14,034 on June 20.
Obviously, the number of tests has dropped by around 1,000 per day since June 17.
As of Saturday, 108,775 Covid-19 patients had been identified in Bangladesh after 596,579 samples were tested.
Experts are of the opinion that in order to stem the tide of the pandemic, there is no alternative to quick identification and isolation of coronavirus patients. But the scope of testing in the country is still seriously inadequate.
Professor Nazrul Islam, a virologist and member of the National Advisory Committee on Coronavirus, said, "The current trend of the infection rate requires at least 20,000 Covid-19 tests per day. If this trend continues, we might need to conduct even more tests on a daily basis.
"We must conduct more tests in the red zones, isolate the people testing positive for the coronavirus and quarantine those who came into contact with the infected. Unless we take those steps, infections will continue to rise."
He added that officials concerned should conduct as many tests as needed in the red zones.
Meanwhile, experts told The Business Standard that the authorities are unable to conduct Covid-19 tests to the full capacity of the laboratories due to a myriad of reasons, such as most facilities having only one PCR lab each and a shortage of skilled personnel.
Several facilities have also stopped testing due to contamination, as they did not have biosafety labs.
Dr AKM Shamsuzzaman, director of the National Institute of Laboratory Medicine and Referral Centre, said, "A PCR machine can test 93 samples at a time, and the process takes around two and a half to three hours.
"Most labs have only one PCR machine each, and they lack adequate manpower. The number of tests being conducted is low because it is being done through shifts."
When asked why the number of tests had dropped in the past few days, a Covid-19 Control Room official on condition of anonymity said, "Currently a person must register online to get tested. When filling up the registration form, a person must include the symptoms.
"Those who do not have any symptoms cannot get tested. Some labs have also become contaminated, so the number of tests per day has gone down."
The official further said the lab in Mymensingh Medical College used to carry out more than 800 tests per day. But testing has remained halted in that facility for the last couple of days due to contamination.
Sixty-one labs across the country have been tasked with conducting coronavirus tests. But according to DGHS data, at least five labs – including Sheikh Hasina Medical College in Jamalpur and Aichi Hospital in Dhaka – have not been conducting tests for the past few days.
Prof Nazrul Islam said, "Those who are working in the labs are doing so without proper training. So, they are contaminating the lab while testing samples. This in turn is causing those labs to shut down.The issue should be resolved.
"Training must be provided to lab workers who did not get trained at the beginning. More medical technologists should be appointed."
On January 21, a single lab began testing for Covid-19 cases in Bangladesh. The first coronavirus patient was identified in the country on March 8. Since then, experts have been stressing the need for an increase in the scope of Covid-19 testing.
On June 18, the DGHS Director General, Professor Dr Abul Kalam Azad, said, "The Covid-19 testing procedure will be expanded into both government and non-government levels. Under the government management, RT–PCR tests will be expanded to the district level as soon as possible.
"New and easy to carry out Covid-19 tests will gradually be introduced. Initiatives will be taken to conduct the tests at upazila hospitals."