Delhi Principal Secretary (Health) Vikram Dev Dutt had sought guidance from an "expert committee/home ministry" on "whether scaling up of (COVID-19) testing numbers is to be done" in the national capital, according to official documents.
Dutt had written the note on August 26 after Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced that COVID-19 tests in the city will be doubled to 40,000 per day within a week.
"Further guidance may be kindly sought from the expert committee/MHA on the following aspects — In light of the current COVID-19 situation and trajectory of cases in Delhi, whether scaling up of testing numbers is to be done and if so, to what extent," read the note written by Dutt. Calls and messages to Dutt did not elicit any response on the matter.
On Thursday, Health Minister Satyendar Jain had written to Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, alleging that the Delhi government officers are being "pressurised" by the Union home ministry to not increase COVID-19 testing in the national capital, an allegation that was termed "baseless" by the latter. The home ministry, however, denied the charge.
The note also said, "If the numbers are to be scaled up, the testing mix between RT-PCR and RAT (Rapid Antigen Test) in terms of relative ratios which should be followed." "In the approved testing strategy specific categories of geographical areas and demography were specifically indicated where testing effort was concentrated.
The opinion and guidance of the expert committee may be obtained as to what additional geographical areas and categories of demography are to be targeted if testing is to be scaled up," the note read. Meanwhile, sources claimed that Chief Secretary Vijay Dev and Dutt have gone on leave, however, there was no official confirmation.
Talking to reporters at his residence on Friday, Jain said the chief minister had ordered increase in testing a few days ago after Delhi witnessed a spike in the number of fresh COVID-19 cases in the last several days. Asked if such a permission in writing was required despite Kejriwal issuing orders to double the testing, he said ,it was "unfortunate" and "no question arises as to why should it be needed".
A home ministry spokesperson had on Thursday said the marked improvement in the COVID-19 situation in Delhi has been possible due to enhanced testing and other containment measures. "The allegation raised in the letter of the Health Minister of Delhi Govt dated August 27, 2020, which is addressed to Union Home Secretary, to the effect that MHA is putting pressure on Delhi Govt officers not to increase testing in Delhi is false and baseless," the spokesperson had tweeted on Thursday.
The ministry had also said the letter of Jain annexed a note of the officers of the Delhi government and this note made no mention whatsoever of any instruction of the Union home ministry on the matter of increase testing in Delhi. The note has only proposed that the views of an expert committee headed by V K Paul may be taken on the proposed enhancement in testing in Delhi, for technical guidance on various issues such as mix of RT-PCR and Rapid Antigen, categories of geographical areas and demographics etc, the ministry spokesperson had said.
The ministry said it was after the intervention of Union Home Minister Amit Shah that the daily tests in Delhi, which were averaging around 4,000 per day till mid June, 2020, went up to around 18-20,000 per day in a calibrated manner. On Friday, Delhi recorded 1,808 fresh COVID-19 cases , taking the city's tally to over 1.69 lakh, while the death toll from the disease rose to 4,389, authorities said.
This is the second successive day when over 1,800 new cases have been reported in August.