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Mumbai to relax testing restrictions, raising hopes country will follow

Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

India’s financial capital, Mumbai, will allow walk-in coronavirus testing without a doctor’s prescription — setting a precedent for a needed loosening of what has been a highly restrictive coronavirus testing policy.

India, which has the world’s third-highest known coronavirus burdens, with 742,000 confirmed cases, also has one of the world’s lowest rates of testing. Since the pandemic began, tight controls on testing have made it tough for ailing patients to obtain tests, even with doctors’ prescriptions.

India has carried out just 7,398 tests per million of its population, compared to Brazil’s 20,500 per million people, and more than 117,200 per million in the United States.

Initially, India’s highly restrictive testing protocols were designed to preserve scarce test kits and laboratory manpower for suspected cases thought most in need of confirmation.

But even after testing capacity was ramped up in recent weeks, many jurisdictions continued to make it difficult for patients to get tests, amid accusations that they have been motivated by a desire to downplay the severity of the pandemic in their area.

However, in a major reversal of previous policy, Mumbai city officials will now permit local diagnostics laboratories to test any patients on a walk-in basis without a doctor’s prescription, a move hailed by public health experts as critical to helping the city control its caseload.

Experts hope that other cities and states will follow suit, as India’s infection curve shows no sign of flattening. While the number of new cases appears to be moderating in Mumbai and New Delhi, the southern tech hubs, Bangalore and Hyderabad, are reporting surging caseloads.

Bangalore’s health system is currently struggling to accommodate ailing patients, leaving families to struggle to find hospital beds.



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