The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) claimed on May 19, 2021, that two million COVID-19 tests were conducted across the country on May 18 making it the highest number of tests conducted globally in a single day.
This is untrue because the United States crossed the two million daily testing mark about 23 times between November 18, 2020 with 2.09 million tests and January 27, 2021 with 2.06 million tests, according to data sourced from Department of Health & Human Services and compiled by Our World In Data.
On May 18, 2021, India conducted more than two million daily COVID-19 tests, the highest in the country since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The same claim was repeated by Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan in a tweet.
India has ramped up its testing capacity from over eight lakh daily tests in the first week of January 2021 to more than 15 lakh tests a day since mid-April. Since May 5, 2021, there have been days when it crossed 19 lakh.
However, when compared to top countries with the highest COVID-19 caseload, India's testing is highly insufficient. As of May 2021, India had conducted 235 tests per 1,000 people which is significantly less compared to the US and UK. As of May 18, the US had conducted 1,322 tests and UK 2,480 tests per thousand people, according to data compiled by Our World in Data.
FactChecker tried contacting ICMR for a comment and didn't get a response by the time this was published. If and when we do, we will update the story.
Testing still low
According to the criteria published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in May 2020, a test positivity ratio (TPR) of less than 5% is an indicator that an infection is under control. India's average TPR in the past one week is 15.4% and it has been on a steady decline but it's still well above WHO's suggested criteria.
According to Dr Rijo M. John, health economist and professor at Rajagiri College of Social Sciences, Kochi, for India to reach there we will have to at least triple the number of daily testing we do.
"The government should invest in significantly increasing testing capacity! At the same time, the testing infrastructure needs to be distributed across the length and breadth of the country. There should be better testing facilities in rural areas," said John.
John further suggested that India's current TPR may be due to a combination of factors such as increase in daily testing, a peak in cases across multiple urban areas, more tests being done in areas where cases have already peaked and relatively fewer tests done in places where cases are rising.
Dr. Balram Bhargava, Director General of ICMR, at a press conference on May 11, 2021, said India has a daily capacity of conducting 16 lakh Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain (RT-PCR) tests and 17 lakh Rapid Antigen tests which totals to a testing capacity of 33 lakh daily tests. Despite having this capacity, the country crossed the 20 lakh or 2 million mark recently.
When asked about the way forward with regard to the testing strategy, the professor from Kochi said testing is a very important tool for early detection and isolation and the more efficient one can become in terms of detecting positive cases early and isolating them, the better chances there are to limit the rate of growth of new cases.