In mid-April, just as India was starting to feel the burn from the second Covid-19 wave, the ICMR website almost crashed under the pressure of rapidly rising cases. ICMR, or the Indian Council of Medical Research, is the nodal body that directed India’s response to the first Covid wave. More importantly, it’s a body that validates different types of Covid test kits. It’s the gatekeeper of both standards and data, which made it a bottleneck of sorts in the first few weeks of April, as patients were being rushed to hospitals with dipping blood oxygen levels. 

Before they could be admitted, hospitals and Covid-care facilities insisted on seeing a positive Covid report. Following a rap on the knuckles by the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) finally revised revised MoneyControl COVID-19 | Hospital admission policy revised; test report not needed, no refusal of service on any count — here are key points Read more  that policy on 9 May, a whole month after the system collapsed. On the ground, though, scenes are different. Most hospitals and isolation centres invariably insist insist The New Indian Express Denied RT-PCR tests, patients opt for private hospitals in Telangana Read more  on a positive report for triaging triaging Triage Method of segregating a patient according to the level of care s/he may require, or separating a Covid from a non-covid patient purposes. 

“Every diagnostic lab has to upload its positive reports on the ICMR website in addition to informing the patient. At every lab, you would need at least a few data entry personnel to manually upload these results. There was immense pressure of bandwidth, and a higher margin for error,” says the founder of a pan-India diagnostic chain, who wished not to be identified. 

ICMR isn’t the only portal that labs have to report data to. Over the last few weeks, almost every state and district created their own reporting mechanisms, which labs in these states have to comply with. “It’s an unnecessary information loop. But states need to “manage” their numbers. If you’re reporting too many positives, the state-level machinery is going to send you a notice,” says the entrepreneur mentioned above. These notices were aimed at pressuring labs into lowering testing, superficially controlling the states’ Covid numbers. The entrepreneur declined to name specific states where the practice is rampant. 

The second Covid-19 surge has been devastating for India.