While the Centre plans to scale up testing for COVID-19 to one lakh samples per day, sources said only about 3 lakh RNA extraction kits are left. With over 38,000 samples being tested on an average daily, the existing stock is just enough to last about a week.
The RNA extraction kits are required to prepare samples for the RT-PCR test – one kit per test.
This comes at a time when serological tests, or rapid antibody tests, have been suspended across the country following complaints of varying levels of accuracy.
Meanwhile, 1,490 new cases and 56 deaths were reported on Saturday, taking the total tally to 24,942 cases (5,209 recovered) and 779 deaths. The ICMR said a total of 5,79,957 samples have been tested so far.
“We have about 3 lakh RNA extraction kits, enough for just one week at the present rate of testing. We are pushing for acquiring them quickly and have placed orders with various vendors. We are hoping to get at least 3 million RNA extraction kits and 1 million viral transport medium kits, with the supplies starting soon. The problem is that the RT-PCR kits cannot be used without the RNA extraction kits,” said a source.
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Some states like Madhya Pradesh have already flagged the dwindling stock of RNA extraction kits.
An RNA extraction kit, as the name suggests, extracts the RNA from the virus – the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is a single-stranded RNA virus – for running the RT-PCR test, which compares the composition of the RNA to test the identity of the virus. India is also planning to use TB testing machines to ramp up RT-PCR capacity.
Earlier this month, the Centre informed the states and Union territories (UTs) that it is planning to increase daily testing to 1 lakh by May 31.
However, the shortage of RNA extraction kits could hamper the plan to ramp up testing.
The ICMR had recently issued an advisory asking states to identify a nodal officer to coordinate with the State Resident Commissioner stationed in Delhi for procurement/ supply of reagents/ primers/ probes. “All labs certified by ICMR will procure VTM & RNA extraction kits through states,” it said.
The Group of Ministers (GoM), headed by Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, met on Saturday to review the preparations and deliberate on the way ahead. A detailed presentation on the COVID-19 situation across the country, along with the response and management, was made.
The GoM was informed that over 1 lakh PPEs and N95 masks are being manufactured in the country daily. At present, there are 104 domestic manufactures of PPEs and three making N95 masks. In addition, domestic manufacturers have also started production of ventilators and orders have been placed for over 59,000 units through nine manufacturers.