A 40-year-old Borivli resident who needed to undergo a Covid-19 test was shocked to hear that his swab sample would be collected after 48 hours. “I called up four laboratories, including the big chains, but they all told me that the state government has asked them not to collect samples for a few days,” he said.
In Mulund, a 28-year-old researcher got a booking for Thursday, when she called up on Monday. “While I managed to book an online appointment with a well-known laboratory chain for Tuesday, my friend told me that the lab’s technicians don’t show up and don’t even communicate about any cancellation,” she said.
BMC officials denied any order to not collect samples.
Additional municipal commissioner Suresh Kakani said that many laboratories have increased their collection centres. “These collection centres have mushroomed and they take on too may samples, resulting in a delay in getting results,” he said.
As the BMC has asked laboratories to give results within 24 hours of collecting the sample, he said laboratories are perhaps streamlining their collection. “But it shouldn’t take 48 hours to get an appointment,” said Kakani. “Most of our laboratories still offer walk-in facilities, but people from better economic backgrounds don’t come to our centres,” he added.
When asked about the delay in sample collection, an official spokesperson for Metropolis Laboratory said, “Due to the rapid surge in the current cases, the industry is overburdened. Metropolis is adhering to BMC guidelines and picking samples based on our capacity so that we are able to adhere to the 24-hour TAT period.” The spokesperson added that negative reports are delivered within 24 hours and positive reports are released as per protocol. Queries to SRL Laboratories went unanswered.
When asked about the delay, public health minister Rajesh Tope said the state has got proposals from multinational companies to set up RT-PCR facilities that can conduct 10,000 tests in a day. “The cost of the test would be Rs 350 per sample, but we would have no installation charges except to bear the electricity and space,” he said. “Such a facility could be of help in Mumbai.”