India needs to aggressively ramp up coronavirus testing capacity as it can’t afford another lockdown or a wave of new active cases hitting hospitals, according to the head of one of the country’s largest drug makers.
While some states are doing better than others, as a whole “we are way below the testing levels of other countries,” Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, the founder and chairman of Biocon Ltd., said at the Bloomberg India Economic Forum on Thursday.
“We need to ramp up our testing -- the number of active cases are manageable at this point of time, but if the active cases start surging we simply don’t have the capacity.”
India, which in March imposed the largest nationwide lockdown globally in response to the pandemic, was taken by surprise by the surging number of infections when it started removing the restrictions, Mazumdar-Shaw said. Now 7 million people in the South Asian nation have been infected with Covid-19 -- the second largest outbreak in the world.
With about 830 tests per million, India’s current virus testing rates are among the lowest in the world, according to most recent data from Johns Hopkins University. The steady rise in cases is making it harder for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to revive an economy that shrank 24 percent in the quarter ended June.
“We are going about it in an ad-hoc manner, opinions count, and science is not being looked at rationally,” said 67-year-old Mazumdar-Shaw, who in August said she was infected with Covid-19 and experienced mild symptoms. She advocated early diagnosis to treat the infection and recover faster.
Fortunately India has a youthful population that has kept fatalities low, along with a large vaccine production capacity, she said.
The challenge for the country will be building up cold chain logistics to distribute vaccines across India, Mazumdar-Shaw said.