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The Mamata Banerjee government, which has been drawing flak for its low rate of Covid-19 tests, has accused the ICMR-NICED [Indian Council of Medical Research-National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases] of providing it with defective Covid-19 test kits.

“The apparently defective test kits supplied by ICMR-NICED, Kolkata, are resulting in a high number of repeat / confirmatory tests and causing delays and other attendant problems at a time when we are battling a pandemic,” the state health department tweeted on Sunday evening.

Kolkata’s ICMR-NICED is a research institute under the Union health ministry and the regional Virus Research Diagnostic Lab (VRDL) for eastern India.

“Earlier when kits were required in smaller quantities they were imported, standardised and then distributed by NIV, Pune. But when the demand started rising ICMR imported the kits and sent them directly to the 16 regional hubs, including NICED, in Kolkata. The kits were then distributed to state run medical colleges where they were required to be standardised. This standardisation is not being done because of lack of time and technical knowledge,” said Shanta Dutta, NICED director.

The state recorded its first Covid-19 positive case on March 17, but it was only last week that the administration started ‘sealing’ some localities after identifying them as ‘high-risk spots’. Experts allege that Bengal may have woken up late. According to senior cardiologist Kunal Sarkar, identification of such ‘micro-spots’ would be of no use, if the frequency of testing does not increase.

“…sample testing in India is quite low. And in West Bengal, it is exceptionally low. We need to understand that it is not a competition of low numbers. If we suppress numbers in a state, then our hot spots would amount to nothing but fallacies…,” said Sarkar.

Over the past week, the state has been testing about 200 samples per day on an average.

Shanta Dutta, director of National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (NICED)– ICMR, said that the state government was not sending enough samples for testing. NICED – ICMR, Kolkata, is a laboratory under the Virus Research Diagnostic Laboratory network of the Union health ministry.

A senior health official of the state government who requested to remain anonymous, however, said, “NICED is not the only testing lab in West Bengal…we have six other laboratories. Samples are also being sent there.”