Coronavirus (COVID-19): With four days to go for conditional easing of restrictions in specific areas, testing has been stepped up across the country — the number of samples tested in the last 24 hours crossed 30,000 for the first time on Thursday — and the first consignment of 5 lakh rapid COVID-19 testing kits has arrived from China.
Indicating that more testing kits are on the way, Vikram Misri, India’s Ambassador to China, tweeted: “A total of 650,000 kits, including Rapid Antibody Tests and RNA Extraction Kits have been despatched early today from Guangzhou Airport to India.”
This means that rapid antibody tests, in which the results take less than 30 minutes, can be used in the 170 hotspots across the country, as per guidelines of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
However, as the ICMR reiterated Thursday, the tests are only for surveillance and should not be used for diagnosis.
Meanwhile, 826 new cases were reported in the last 24 hours, dipping from 1,118 on Wednesday and 1,463 on Tuesday. With 28 more deaths, the toll has gone up to 420, while 12,759 cases (1,515 recovered) have been detected so far.
At the daily health briefing, officials said 30,043 samples were tested in the last 24 hours. In a late night update, the ICMR said a total of 3,02,956 samples have been tested so far.
“We have received 5 lakh kits (from China): 2 lakh from a company called Nuzon and 3 lakh from another called Wantro. They have a sensitivity of over 80%. One needs to understand that these are serological tests. This is not for early diagnosis because it takes time for antibodies to develop. This is for surveillance in hotspots, to periodically check the spread of the disease,” said Dr R R Gangakhedkar, head of epidemiology and infectious diseases, ICMR.
Countering the repeated criticism about India not testing enough, he said: “There are some 350 districts where there are no cases at all, so doing a calculation of tests per million people is not proper… In countries like Japan, one out of 11.7 tests turns out to be positive, which is among the highest in the world. Italy tests 6.7 persons for one positive test, while the US tests 5.3 persons, and the UK 3.4. In India, we are conducting 24 tests, out of which one turns out to be positive. Also, we have a huge population and not all people belong to vulnerable groups. Hence, we can’t say our testing ratio is low.”
Gangakhedkar also allayed concerns about testing capacity, making the point that for every nine-hour shift, a total of 42,418 samples can be tested daily; the capacity will double for two shifts.
He said the testing strategy for RT-PCR tests, which takes 8-9 hours for the results, remains the same — symptomatic people with contact or travel history, healthcare workers, people with severe acute respiratory infection or influenza like illness in hotspots, and asymptomatic contacts of confirmed cases between 5-14 days of exposure.
He said pooled testing will be done with RT-PCR to reduce costs in districts with zero cases.
Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal reiterated that 27 districts in 14 states have not reported any case in the last 14 days. Mahe in Puducherry has not reported any case for 28 days, he said.
“Our case fatality rate is 3.3% while the recovery rate is 12.02%,” he said. The fatality rate is at par with the World Health Organisation’s calculated rate of about 3.4%.
Among the districts which have not reported any case in 14 days are: Patna (Bihar), Nadia (West Bengal), Pratapgarh (Rajasthan), Porbandar (Gujarat), South Goa, Pauri Garhwal (Uttarakhand), Pilibhit (UP), Rajouri (Jammu), West Imphal (Manipur), Aizawl (Mizoram), West Kottayam and Wayanad in Kerala; Bilaspur, Durg and Rajnandgaon in Chhattisgarh.
Meanwhile, officials said India is looking at getting about 15 lakh testing kits from China.
“This consignment (of 6.5 lakh kits) comprises kits from three suppliers — rapid antibody testing kits (3 lakh from Wondfo Biotech Co and 2.5 lakh from Zhuhai Livzon Diagnostics Inc) and RNA extraction kits (1 lakh from MGI Shenzen),” said a source in New Delhi.
The government is also trying to get testing kits from South Korea. Sources said quotations have been obtained from companies in the UK, Malaysia, France, Canada and the US too. “We have also obtained leads from companies in Germany and Japan,” the source said.
“Our embassy in Beijing and our consulate in Guangzhou have played a key role in tying-up and expediting these supplies. There were challenges, considering the supply crunch, local regulations requiring registration etc. Special efforts were made with local authorities for Customs clearance late last evening. The embassy also helped to get necessary clearances for airlines which transported this cargo as they were operating on non-scheduled flights,” the source said.
Indian missions are also closely coordinating with concerned agencies for supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) kits. A large consignment is expected shortly. Misri had said earlier this week that India is looking to import about 15 million PPE kits from China.
With the increased demand for medical supplies, China has asked all countries to import from reputed companies cleared by its government. Responding to questions about quality concerns, its Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a media briefing in Beijing that the Chinese government was facilitating orderly exports.
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