When 32-year-old Akhil Thyagarajan had to travel to Dubai in the middle of the third Covid wave, he planned everything to a tee. From travel to the airport and airport Covid tests to security and boarding, Thyagarajan was sure he was adequately prepared. What he didn’t foresee was the six-hour wait for his rapid RT-PCR rapid RT-PCR Rapid RT-PCR The Rapid RT-PCR COVID-19 Test is a molecular, in vitro diagnostic test utilising end point reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) technology in a closed setting (that of a box) that loads one sample at a time and processes test results in 15-30 minutes results, on top of the one-hour wait to actually take the test.

Thyagarajan was flying from the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International airport in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad. The airport is run by Adani Enterprises Ltd, the flagship entity of ports-to-energy conglomerate Adani Group— one of six one of six Mint Adani Enterprises paid Rs 1103 crore for six airports Read more that the group runs. The company that conducted Thyagarajan’s rapid RT-PCR tests—North Star Diagnostics Pvt Ltd—is also backed by the Adani Group. The lab currently operates in four out of the six Adani-run airports, in addition to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai. 

Adani’s involvement in the diagnostics space is relatively new—North Star was founded in February 2021, just as the second wave of the virus was beginning to pick up. A whole year and another wave of the virus later, Adani, and others like it, seem to have tapped into a goldmine—covid testing.  

Rapid RT-PCR tests and self-tests like the Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) have become the go-to testing methods for the third wave. And for good reason. Rapid tests, though expensive, give you results within minutes, helping travellers like Thyagarajan whose destinations mandate repeat negative RT-PCR results within six hours of travel. It’s also more expensive than the standard RT-PCR, the price of which currently hovers between Rs 300-500 (US$4-7). Thyagarajan paid Rs 3,000 (US$40) for his rapid RT-PCR. 

Diagnostics companies like Genestrings Diagnostic Centre Pvt Ltd, which holds a monopoly on rapid testing at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, earn anywhere between Rs 1.22 crore (US$160,500) to Rs 1.4 crore (US$190,000) in a single day. Since January, it has conducted nearly 3,500-4,000 rapid tests per day, according to data from the company. 

It’s not just those without prior diagnostic experience leaping into the space. The Tata Group, which has been in the health space since 2015 since 2015 The Ken Tata Health: Many tests but short on diagnosis Read more , founded Tata Medical and Diagnostics (Tata MD) in 2020.

AUTHOR

Maitri Porecha

Maitri writes about everything health for The Ken. For close to 10 years now, she has navigated hospital corridors in her search for a good story. In a past life, when she was not a journalist, she used to teach French at her neighbourhood school. Also an avid fan of forensics, she is always up for decoding mysteries in her free time.

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