In a bid to make the Covid-19 test “seamless and accessible” to all in Mumbai, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) will from Wednesday allow testing for all, irrespective of whether they have symptoms or not, and without a doctor’s prescription or self declaration. The civic body will also conduct antigen tests in containment zones and hospitals.
This is the ninth time that BMC has changed its testing protocol, mostly in conformity with central guidelines. The latest change also came after the Union Health Ministry instructed states to increase their testing capacity.
The BMC said on Tuesday that all laboratories, including private ones, were free to conduct RT-PCR (real-time polymerase chain reaction) tests on any individual in accordance with Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) guidelines without prescription from a doctor, including for home testing.
Charges for a test at a laboratory have been fixed at Rs 2,500, for home testing, one will have to shell out Rs 2,800. There are 17 private labs in Mumbai that are conducting RT-PCR tests.
Municipal Commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal called the revised guidelines “the most liberal Covid-19 testing policy anywhere in India”. It will be implemented by BMC with immediate effect, he said. As of Tuesday, Mumbai has reported 86,132 cases and 4,999 deaths.
On an average, BMC conducts 4,500 to 5,000 tests per day, which is lower than the full capacity of its labs. The ICMR, in a letter to all states and union territories, had instructed all to conduct tests as per the full capacity of their labs.
Earlier, the BMC was allowing tests only for symptomatic patients, and a doctor’s prescription was mandatory. The civic body had warned private medical practitioners not to prescribe tests without examining the patient. It had claimed that many asymptomatic patients were rushing for tests out of fear, increasing the burden on private labs, resulting in delay in labs coming out with test reports.
There had been concern that not testing asymptomatic people could lead to the spread of the virus and defeat the idea of infection containment.
So far, BMC has conducted 3.63 lakh tests – 27,916 per million – with a positivity rate of 23.49 per cent.
Meanwhile, apart from hospitals, antigen tests will also be carried out in containment zones and cover both symptomatic and high-risk asymptomatic contacts – who have comorbidities – of the infected. These tests will carried out between the fifth to tenth day of a person coming into contact with a positive patient.
All laboratories have been asked to first inform BMC about the test results and then the patients for better bed management and access to medical facilities. “Labs should inform BMC of the results within 24 hours of the tests being conducted. There should be no backlog, otherwise labs will face action,” an official from BMC said.
Under its new initiative of “trace-test-track-treat”, BMC is targeting early detection of Covid-19 cases. “We have instructed all hospitals and Covid care centres to test all admitted patients who are suspected to be infected,” the official said.
Further, BMC has instructed all ward officers to set up camps and use mobile vans for ramping up the number of tests. In hotspots, it will make symptomatic patients and their contacts with comorbidities undergo antigen tests.
“We have been asked to take the help of private labs for conducting at least 250 tests a day with the help of rapid antigen testing kits. In case a symptomatic patient tests negative in the antigen test, a RT-PCR test should be conducted to confirm the result,” a ward officer in an eastern suburb said.
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