Rapid antigen test, which is approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) as one more type of test to diagnose Covid-19, has begun in Darjeeling district. The tests are being conducted at the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital (NBMCH), Siliguri District Hospital, Darjeeling District Hospital and Kurseong Sub-Divisional Hospital.

A rapid antigen test is done by using the nasal swab of a person, while the results are out within 30-45 minutes, experts have said. Health department officials said it will scale up testing and will also be useful for emergency cases.

Health experts believe that the actual number of Covid-19 cases is much higher than what is being detected. They also said more cases would come to light if people suspected of Covid or those who die are tested too.

“The nasopharyngeal swab is examined for the rapid antigen test. If a sample tests positive, it will be considered as final. The negative reports for asymptomatic persons will be treated final, but those who test negative, but show symptoms or have mild symptoms will undergo the conventional RT-PCR test,” said a senior health official.

Darjeeling district chief medical officer of health Dr Pralay Acharya said the development will expand the ambit of testing. “The advantage of the test is that it yields faster results, and it can be had in less than an hour. Given this, more tests can be carried out. The testing facilities have been decentralised. We have received the antigen test kits,” Dr Acharya said. Sources said two samples were tested positive through this method yesterday.

The ICMR had on 15 June announced that it validated the antigen tests. Some health experts suggested that it could be effective to fast-track testing and tracing of positive cases.

Blood banks dry up

The Covid-19 situation has hit blood banks in north Bengal. Blood bank authorities said they were now left with almost ‘nil’ stock. They attributed this to the lack of blood donation camps out of fear of Covid-19.

“We are in such a situation that we cannot describe it as a crisis because we almost have no stock of blood. The situation has aggravated since the beginning of this month. The situation of other government-run blood banks are the same,” said the director of the Regional Blood Transfusion Centre (RBTC) at the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital, Dr Mridumay Das.

Dr Das said they have issued appeals for people and organisations to donate blood. “But so far we have not got any positive response,” he added.

There are 17 government blood banks in north Bengal under the RBTC, and officials said the situation there too was more or less the same. It is learnt that around 80 units of blood are supplied from the RBTC to the different health facilities, and the daily requirement of the NBMCH alone is around 60-70 units.

Sources at the RBTC said around 500 units of stock with at least 25 units of each positive group is an ideal stock. Voluntary organisations and frontal wings of political parties usually hold donation camps. Some representatives of voluntary organisations said many were not willing to donate blood given the Covid19 situation.