Indian officials suspect that some private agencies conducted fake coronavirus tests, totaling at least 100,000 results, which could be a major factor in the sudden rise of COVID-19 cases in the country.
Authorities ordered an investigation following an internal government report of the alleged fake tests. Many experts believe the Kumbh Mela festival that ran throughout April was a major contributor to the surge of new cases across India. This is because many of the pilgrims returning from the festival tested positive days after the event.
Millions of residents gathered at the town of Haridwar on the banks of the river Ganges in the northern state of Uttarakhand to celebrate the festival. A four-member committee will submit a report in two weeks regarding the investigation that is focusing on potential lapses and fake results, Haridwar Health Officer Dr. Arjun Singh Sengar said during an interview.
Fake COVID-19 Test Results
Only 2,273 tests out of 251,000 returned to be positive across the district, Sengar said. However, many health officials said the numbers were questionable due to the government underreporting positive cases. The low number of infections showed a false sense of safety to attend the pilgrimage despite the fact that many of the attendees did not wear masks, making an ideal environment for an outbreak, the New York Times reported.
The government report claimed that COVID-19 tests conducted during the festival had 100,000 fake procedures among the 400,000 tests. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party continued to advertise the festival in newspapers, inviting pilgrims from across the country despite public health officials' warning against the event.
Before the surge of new cases, New Delhi began lifting lockdown restrictions along with tech hub Bengaluru after officials recorded a massive drop, reaching its lowest rate of daily COVID-19 cases in more than two months.
New Delhi officials fully reopened shops and malls and allowed restaurants to operate at 50% seating capacity after a strict five-week lockdown. They also allowed suburban rail networks to operate at 50% capacity and partially reopened offices in the region, Reuters reported.
The Chief Development Officer Saurabh Gaharwar is leading the committee in charge of the investigation regarding the fake test results. The committee is ordered to provide a report of its findings regarding the issue within 15 days.
The Haridwar administration ordered the investigation after the preliminary report discovered efforts to potentially conduct fake tests. The district health department is believed to have conducted the testing on a random number of people.
The laboratory has had all of its payments withheld for the time being while the investigation is ongoing, Haridwar District Magistrate C Ravishankar said. SK Jha, Haridwar's Chief Medical Officer said that the level of committed irregularities was difficult to determine before the completion of the district administration's probe into the allegations.
Authorities have not yet revealed who will be charged for the fake tests and whether legal action would be taken afterward, First Post reported.