Thursday, 20 January 2022

Cost for rapid RT-PCR tests varies across airports in India

Cost for rapid RT-PCR tests varies across airports in India

A significant variant between the country's large privately-managed international airports and state-run airports in terms of the cost of rapid RT-PCR tests means that the bulk of the international arrivals is subjected to expensive Covid-19 tests.

For example, the rapid PCR test costs Rs 1,580 at Kozhikode airport, while the rates at Mumbai and Hyderabad airports are 2.5 times at Rs 3,900. This indicates the margins at stake, although rates have been brought down by 13.3 percent after the state governments intervened in the latter, citing overcharging.

Most airports have tied up with single vendors for offering these tests, but even in Mumbai, which has multiple vendors in place, the rates for the tests are the same. At Delhi Airport, the rapid PCR test costs Rs 3,500, while a regular RT-PCR test costs Rs 500.

The top four international airports — Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Bengaluru — account for more than half of the international traffic arriving in India. According to AAI data, these four airports saw 12.23 lakh passengers in October, out of the total 22.22 lakh international passengers that arrived in India that month. Comparatively, Kozhikode saw 1.45 lakh passengers, Goa 9,565 passengers, Kolkata 34,076, and Chennai 1.57 lakh passengers.

One reason for the high prices is the 30-35% revenue share being collected by the airport operators for the tests. Government-owned airport operators have, however, decided to forgo their revenue share.

In the factor of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, the Centre has mandated RT-PCR tests for all travelers arriving from 'at-risk' countries. These include European countries and South Africa, China, etc.

Cost for rapid RT PCR tests varies across airports in India 1unsplash image

Read More: New Covid Variant of South Africa prompt alert in India

A regular RT-PCR test for Covid-19 at Hyderabad airport which takes a few hours for the results costs Rs 750, while Rapid PCR tests that take about an hour to show results cost Rs 3,900. The price for rapid PCR was only recently reduced from Rs 4,500 earlier. Similarly, in Mumbai, the Rapid PCR test costs as much as Rs 3,900, but this too was reduced from Rs 4,500 last week after the state government's intervention. Regular RT-PCR at Mumbai airport costs Rs 600. Last week, the Maharashtra government had written to the Union health ministry seeking uniformity in charges for rapid RT-PCR tests as costs were "very high."

According to an official at one of the airport operators, the price for regular RT-PCR is decided by the government. Still, the diagnostic laboratory agrees that of rapid PCR tests. At Delhi Airport, for example, Genestrings Diagnostics is the sole service provider. The Delhi Airport, which GMR operates, has been asked by the Ministry of Civil Aviation to onboard more service providers. Another GMR-run airport — the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, Hyderabad 

At the Mumbai Airport, operated by the Adani Group, three service providers, Lifenity, Suburban Diagnostics, and Acu-MD (Mylabs), are for international arrivals. At Ahmedabad Airport, also used by Adani Group, Northstar Pathology Labs is the designated lab. At Ahmedabad, regular RT-PCR tests cost Rs 400, while rapid RT-PCR tests cost Rs 2,700.

The rapid test prices are high not only at private airports but also at AAI-run airports. At Kolkata Airport, rapid tests cost Rs 2,900 after the price was slashed twice — from Rs 4,000 to Rs 3,600. This was also possible due to AAI deciding to forgo its revenue share.

The primary dissimilarity between the regular RT-PCR and rapid PCR tests is the time taken for the results. According to information from the Mumbai Airport website, average RT-PCR test results take up to 8-10 hours, while rapid RT-PCR test results are provided within 1-2 hours. However, the airport has also noted that "due to a surge in tests conducted, there could be a slight delay in reports." E-mail queries sent to GMR Group, Adani Airports, Bengaluru Airport, and India's Airports Authority did not elicit a response.

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