The Moving Curve: Episode 29

Hello and welcome to The Moving Curve. I’m Rukmini, a data journalist based in Chennai. Every night on this mini-cast, I consider one question around the novel coronavirus epidemic in India. Tonight I’m considering this question — could it be time to stop talking about testing?

Yesterday, the Indian Council for Medical Research asked states to stop using the 5 lakh rapid antibody tests kits it had distributed to them because of problems with the consistency, reliability and accuracy of the kits, flagged most significantly by Rajasthan: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/coronavirus-india-stops-rapid-antibody-tests-for-two-days/article31397179.ece

The problem is that these antibody tests proved to be very unreliable — depending on the location, sometimes 6% and sometimes 71% of cases identified through the antibody test turned out to be positive in the RT-PCR test. This has been the experience of countries around the world, too. I’ve linked to a New York Times article on the US’s issues with unreliable antibody tests: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/19/us/coronavirus-antibody-tests.html

Jishnu Das, Neelanjan Sircar, and Partha Mukhopadhyay’s piece on testing in the Hindustan Times: https://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/a-blueprint-for-a-testing-strategy-analysis/story-OEx409xxBbAXbzLDV1diGI.html

This seems like one possible useful way of thinking about the future, rather than going on talking vaguely and insistently about more testing, sort of the way everyone kept haranguing the government about community transmission some weeks ago. Overall, though, with the antibody tests not holding up and the RT-PCR tests still relatively costly and hard to come by, it might be time to refocus energies away from testing a little bit — so maybe not stop talking about testing, but talk a little less about it.

Maybe this is what we should focus on next — how do we go about finding whom to test? I’ll be discussing containment in tomorrow’s episode.

Thank you for listening. This episode was edited by Anand Krishnamoorthi. Tomorrow — a new question.

I am a data journalist based in Chennai, India.