For the last two days, newspaper headlines were dominated by dire warnings of a second Covid-19 onslaught. The PM's caution was fully backed up by the experts committee's opinion and the causes are not far to seek. In spite of the continued cases of infection, it is business as usual in the country, with the exception of educational institutions. Mass gatherings in shopping centres and crowded local kitchen markets have become normal, social distancing has become a forgotten phrase, and health guidelines have become irrelevant. The likelihood of a new wave of the pandemic is enhanced by the increased infection rate, in India particularly, and resumption of international travel, which may be limited but where the rule of mandatory self-quarantine is constantly being violated.
Given the above, and the experience of our slapdash response in the first phase, the approval for rapid tests is a very welcome development. Antigen-based testing has been permitted in all government hospitals, district hospitals, government PCR labs and all health institutes as per the proposal of the health directorate and the interim guideline of the World Health Organization.
Considering our shortcomings, especially the lack of capacity to perform adequate testing, many of those who should have been tested have not been. The only way that we can stem the infection rate is to test, identify and separate the infected persons for appropriate treatment. Considering the limited number of labs with PCR testing facilities in the country, with most of those being concentrated in Dhaka, the outlying districts, upazilas and villages will now finally have the facilities for mass testing.
Rapid testing would allow us to test more people in quick time (it being cheap), give results in a matter of minutes and, like the genetic tests, reveal an active infection. What we would like to see is a test that is quicker, cheaper and more accurate, although experts agree that all three may not be achievable since with antigen tests, the chances of misdiagnosis remain. But we are also told that chance is miniscule. In any case, no system is error free, and a minute chance of misdiagnosis is more acceptable than no diagnosis whatsoever.