LAHORE: Lahore has a positivity rate of 19.5 per cent and a provincewide ratio in Punjab is over 10 per cent, but the government is still, like the last year, reluctant to ramp up coronavirus testing.

For the past few days, I wasn’t feeling well and had feared that I might have contracted coronavirus. So I decided to get tested from a government facility. Before visiting, I called the COVID-19 helpline, 1166, to inquire about a testing centre in the vicinity of Gulberg, but the call wasn’t picked up as “all the representatives were busy”. So, I asked a former colleague, a reporter who covers health beat, who said I can go to the Expo Centre, where they will conduct a test after asking about my symptoms.

In Lahore, one of the two major government testing centres — the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (UVAS) — has been shut down as it is a vaccination centre now. And the other one, established at Lahore Expo Centre in Johar Town, is still functional; however, whether or not you will get tested, it doesn’t depend on your symptoms, but the doctor.

So I went to the Expo Centre by 1 pm — an hour before the closing time. Gate 4 of the Expo Centre is reserved for vaccinations, while Gate 7 –without any proper parking space– caters to the people who want to get tested for COVID-19.

I went up to the reception set up in a big hall with multiple counters established at a good distance. The paramedics at the counter asked me for the CNIC and gave me a slip to go to the next counter where the doctor was sitting.

The doctor asked me about symptoms. “I have been feeling sick since Saturday, have fatigue, intermittent fever, and occasional bouts of cough,” I tell him from a distance of over 6 feet.

Now here comes to absurd part that made me write this piece. After I listed all my symptoms — including coming into contact with a coronavirus-positive person (that the doctor didn’t bother to ask) — the doctor responded that I didn’t need to get tested.

“I am writing a prescription, take these medicines for five days,” the doctor said, refusing to recommend the COVID-19 test because my symptoms — cough, fever, fatigue, sore throat — weren’t “COVID-like”.

As I walked away, the same doctor — by the way he was the only one in the entire hall — dismissed yet another person who was standing next in line.

This comes amid complaints by several people that they had to wait for several days before getting their test results; on the other hand, private labs continue to return results in a matter of hours.

It is not the first instance that something happened like that. During the first wave, there were numerous reports of the government hospitals sending people back without COVID tests.

At that time, the government had said that it was saving testing kits amid their shortage, but now, one year on when there are enough kits in the world, this reasoning seems beyond comprehension.

A doctor who works at local hospital in Lahore was baffled when I told them about the doctor’s refusal to test me. They said: “There is no reason that the government shouldn’t be testing, especially when kits are available in a sufficient quantity.”

Meanwhile, a global website has ranked Pakistan in the 157th position in the list of 222 countries with the respect to the most number of tests per million population (PMP). And with such a dismal number of tests, Pakistan will be in no position to put an end to community transmission, especially when its national positivity rate is almost 11 per cent and counting.

“A higher per cent positive suggests higher transmission and that there are likely more people with coronavirus in the community who haven’t been tested yet,” said the website of John Hopkins University.

On the other hand, The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been urging the countries to conduct more tests since the very first day to “break the chain of transmission”. “All countries should be able to test all suspected cases, they cannot fight this pandemic blindfolded,” its director general had said in March last year.

“Without testing, cases cannot be isolated and the chain of infection will not be broken,” he had said.

But it seems the Pakistani government, except for paying lip-service, hasn’t done anything substantial to increase its testing capacity or formulate a strategy to curb the infections.


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