Provide easily accessible and free COVID-19 testing across India.

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In spite of a global pandemic that continues to ravage the world, India has tested only 335 people/million population. In our testing rate, we are just ahead of Uganda and behind Pakistan. Source: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

Trends have shown that the more we test, the more we find. And when we continue to test, the cases come down because we are more effective in finding the virus and isolating it. 

80% of people spreading it to others don't know they are infected, and not testing enough is the sort of mistake that every country which witnessed a mass explosion of cases has made.

CONTEXT

February 26: Italy relaxes testing, announcing that contacts linked to confirmed cases or recent travellers to outbreak areas will not be tested anymore. Unless they show symptoms. Number of cases: 322

March 17: 31,506 cases.

April 22: 183,957 cases even when Italy is reportedly on the downslope of the pandemic.

THE NUMBERS IN INDIA

According to official numbers, India has only 129 cases of COVID-19 at the time of writing on March 17, 2020. (Update April 22: 20,000+ cases)

Other than the praiseworthy and timely lockdown imposed by the government, a likely reason for our low numbers is that we've had very strict rules about who can be tested - even if they show symptoms and have been recommended by a doctor. Moreover, there just aren't enough testing locations.

Bihar, with a population of over 10 crores, had ONE centre in Patna at the time of writing and has a total of four on April 22, three of which are in Patna. A person who is sick in a remote area will likely not travel the distance. If they do, they will likely infect multiple people on the way and at the centre. 

THE DANGER

If you don't look, you won't find.

We are likely living with a false sense of complacency because of the low infection numbers we are presented with.

Remember, in its 5th month of the outbreak and with unheard of draconian shutdown measures, China is still seeing cases. This virus is not likely to go away soon, and scientists have said that summer will not kill it. We need a true picture of where we stand.

(Update 22/03: Private labs roped in for testing, but at a prohibitive Rs. 4,500 per test, and so, I have updated this appeal’s headline. Testing has to be free like it was in South Korea. Otherwise, the potentially infected will decide against it for monetary reasons. 

Most developed countries have tested less than 3% of their population. Assuming  the testing cost absorbed by the government is Rs. 2,000 per person and even if 5% of our population is tested, the total test cost comes up to only Rs. 13,700 crores

In comparison, government's mitigation efforts against the pandemic are expected to cost Rs. 10 lakh crores.

THE APPEAL

Scientists the world over are unanimous that ramping up testing is critical to know the ground reality and take timely action.

We need access to free testing and many more sample collection centres across the country. South Korea encouraged people to come and take the tests. It didn't tell people who can and can't be tested. It made it clear that being tested was a right and not a privilege. Eventually, it reigned in the virus without shutting the country down.

The lockdowns have meant huge sacrifices made by the government as well as the people of India, and the results hinge on rapid upscaling of testing. Please join me in signing this petition and do remember to share it.

Further reading:

India needs to ramp up COVID-19 testing, learn from South Korea & avoid US’ mistakes

WHO: 'Test every suspected case' of COVID-19

As the disease spreads, the practicality of testing declines.