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Delay in supply of COVID-19 kits hits rapid test plan

Following the successful South Korea model, the serological tests were to be used to speed up the rate of detection of cases and isolation to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The delay will affect the government’s plan of incremental testing to get a more accurate assessment of the status of transmission.

Written by Abantika Ghosh | New Delhi | Updated: April 12, 2020 12:30:57 pm
A woman sanitises her hands at a bank in Meja village of UP’s Prayagraj district. Exprss Photo by Ritesh Shukla

WHILE RAPID antibody tests to check for novel coronavirus (COVID-19) were set to begin this past week in high density clusters (containment zones) and large migration gatherings/ evacuee centres, the plan has hit a roadblock as the testing kits are yet to arrive.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) had ordered 5 lakh kits, of which 2.5 lakh were to be delivered this past week.

“The supplier said he will deliver (the rapid testing kits) but it has not come so far. He says he will deliver in the next two-three days… kits will come,” Dr R R Gangakhedkar, head of epidemiology and infectious diseases at ICMR, said on Saturday.

Following the successful South Korea model, the serological tests were to be used to speed up the rate of detection of cases and isolation to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The delay will affect the government’s plan of incremental testing to get a more accurate assessment of the status of transmission.

With 768 new cases and 36 deaths reported in the last 24 hours, the total number of cases detected across the country is now 7,529, of which 242 died while 652 recovered.

With 18,044 samples being tested in the last 24 hours, the number of tests has now gone up to 1,79,374.

Responding to a question on the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommending rapid tests only in research settings, Dr Gangakhedkar said: “The tests will show whether a person has been exposed to the virus and whether the virus is still inside the body. This has two advantages: in hotspots, it gives you an idea about the spread of the disease; and in healthcare workers, it reduces the fear factor by telling you whether the person has become immune and can get back to work. This is a first generation test. It will get better with time.”

Meanwhile, a day after denying a study that the Ministry of External Affairs had attributed to the ICMR, which said the number of COVID-19 cases in India would have crossed 8 lakh by April 15 if there was no lockdown, Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said on Saturday: “I would like to bring to your notice that this is not a study but a modelling exercise we had done to extrapolate the course of the disease in India without a lockdown, based on the rate of growth.”

“Before the lockdown we were at a cumulative growth rate of 41%. Then the number of cases would have been 8.2 lakh by April 15. Post-lockdown, the growth rate is down to 29%; we have 7,447 cases today, it would have been 45,000 without a lockdown. We could be at 1.2 lakh cases by April 15 had there just been containment and no lockdown; would have been 2 lakh today without any measures. But this is a modelling exercise we had done internally, not an ICMR study.”

On the state of preparedness, Agarwal said 586 dedicated COVID hospitals with 1,04,613 isolation beds and 11,836 ICU beds were ready so far, and the numbers were increasing.

“The Government of India in its continual efforts, following a graded response approach, is ensuring that there is no shortage of supplies of critical items, which includes PPEs, N95 masks, testing kits, medicines and ventilators, with each state across the country,” the Health Ministry said in a statement.

In a letter to states, the Ministry of Home Affairs has asked them to provide police security to doctors and other medical staff whenever required, especially when they go for screening.

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