As the number of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the country climbed to 283, with 47 new cases being confirmed Saturday, the government announced a major expansion of testing to include “all hospitalised patients with severe acute respiratory illness”, including pneumonia, even if they don’t have any history of travel to an affected country or contact with a patient.
Under the expanded testing protocol, “asymptomatic direct, high-risk contacts of confirmed cases should (also) be tested once between day 5-14 of coming in contact”.
This is a big leap from the earlier strategy, under which testing was limited to only symptomatic people with travel or contact history and symptomatic health workers with contact history.
The government also issued guidelines for testing by private laboratories, setting a ceiling of Rs 4,500 per test — Rs 1,500 for screening and Rs 3,000 for confirmation. A test can only be done if a qualified physician has prescribed it, with appropriate biosafety precautions and home collection of samples.
Big change in strategy
Expanding the testing protocol to include hospitalised patients with severe acute respiratory illness is in line with the evolving strategy to anticipate the stage of community transmission of the coronavirus. India has been criticised for not testing enough. The government’s notification on the expanded protocol says it will follow a “stage-appropriate testing strategy”.
Only real-time PCR assays by trained staff are recommended, and results have to be reported in real time. Samples which test negative have to be destroyed after a week of collection and cannot be shared for any purpose.
India has been criticised for not doing enough tests. The WHO has said that countries need to “test, test, test” to beat the virus.
All with breathing issues, high-risk contacts to be tested
The note on the revised testing strategy, prepared by the Department of Health Research, said: “Currently, India has witnessed cases of COVID-19 mostly related to travel and local transmission from imported cases to their immediate contacts. Community transmission of the disease has not been documented, the above testing strategy will undergo changes to evolve into stage appropriate testing strategy.”
In an advisory to all hospitals, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had said on Friday: “No suspected COVID-19 patient should be turned away from any hospital and the admission of any such patient should be notified to NCDC (National Centre for Disease Control) or IDSP (Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme) immediately. Similarly, all pneumonia patients must also be notified to NCDC or IDSP so that they can be tested for COVID-19.”
Currently, 111 government testing laboratories are in operation.
The Empowered Committee for COVID-19 Response, co-chaired by Dr Vinod Paul, NITI Aayog member, and Prof K Vijayraghavan, principal scientific advisor to the Government of India, has allowed national research laboratories, such as those under DBT, CSIR and DRDO, to carry out COVID-19 testing, provided all protocols are followed.
Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, emphasised that testing will be allowed only if it has been prescribed by a registered medical practitioner. “This is not a fashion or a confidence building measure,” he said.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said a total of 16,911 samples from 16,021 individuals had been tested till Saturday, 6 pm, and 315 individuals had been confirmed positive. While 23 people have recovered so far, four have died.
In a video conference with representatives of pharma companies, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told them that this is the time to boost production. The companies assured him that India has enough supplies for all essential pharma commodities.
Amid reports of people flouting quarantine rules, Agarwal warned that they would be liable to legal action. He maintained that there has been no community transmission so far. “The effort is not to reach that phase, but when it happens, we will have to tell the country,” he said.
Meanwhile, 262 Indians who were stranded in Italy are set to be airlifted to Delhi on Sunday.
One thousand hospitals across the country have been trained, through video conference, in critical care services.
The government also issued an advisory to social media platforms, urging them to initiate awareness campaigns and not to “upload or circulate any false news/ misinformation concerning coronavirus which are likely to create panic among public and disturb the public order and social tranquility.”
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