World Health Organization Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan said on Tuesday that India has one of the lowest coronavirus testing rates in the world, PTI reported.

According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, 6,61,892 samples were tested on August 3, and the total number of tests carried out stands at 2.08 crore. India’s population is 138 crore.

“India as a whole, the testing rates are much lower compared to some of the countries who have done well like Germany, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan,” Swaminathan said at an online interactive session, moderated by Telangana Minister for IT and Industries KT Rama Rao. “Even the United States is testing a huge number of people. So we need to have some benchmark and every public health department needs to have benchmarks on what is the rate of testing per lakh or per million, what is the test positivity rate.”

Swaminathan added that without adequate testing, combating the coronavirus is like “fighting fire blindfolded”. She said that the number of tests being conducted is not sufficient if the positivity rate is above 5%.

She said there were eight to 10 indicators that the governments around the world need to focus on, to assess whether facilities for coronavirus patients need to be ramped up. Governments need to constantly monitor the availability of beds, quarantine facilities, Intensive Care Units and oxygen supplies in district hospitals, she added.

Swaminathan said the virus has spread to every country in the world, and there is clear evidence of community transmission. “We know that lockdowns are temporary measures or a temporary measure which reduces the spread because it prevents people from getting closer together and the idea of the lockdown is to buy time for the government to put in place the system needed to tackle the virus,” she said.

On the ongoing vaccine trials, Swaminathan said that according to the World Health Organization, if the efficacy rate of the dose is 70%, it is considered to be a good vaccine. The WHO chief scientist added that the COVAX facility, a mechanism designed to ensure quick, fair and equitable access to coronavirus vaccines for people around the world, will deliver two billion doses by the end of 2021. She opined that all 194 member countries of the health body should come together to plan the equitable and fair distribution of the vaccines.

In India, trials of Covaxin, a vaccine being manufactured by Bharat Biotech, have reached the human trial stage. The country has the third-highest number of cases in the world. India recorded 52,050 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, taking the total number of infections to 18,55,745. The toll rose by 803 to 38,938.

Globally, 1,83,16,072 people have been infected, and 6,94,715 have died, according to the Johns Hopkins University.

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