With a steep rise in Covid-19 cases and fatalities in the recent days in Punjab, the state has decided to go in for Covid-19 rapid antigen testing of its entire population covered under containment zones and micro-containment zones. The state, till Friday, had four containment zones and 73 micro-containment zones.
The antigen testing was started in Punjab as pilot project in five districts — Amritsar, Jalandhar, Patiala, Ludhiana and Mohali. Punjab had first procured 5,000 testing kits, then 10,000 kits and followed it up by procuring 30,000 more kits which have been distributed across the state, according to Punjab’s nodal officer for Covid-19, Dr Rajesh Bhaskar. Out of more than 9,000 rapid antigen tests done so far, around 880 have tested positive.
There are 73 micro-containment zones in Punjab in 18 of the total 22 districts in Punjab. Any locality having 5 to 14 positive cases is declared micro-containment zone in Punjab. As of Friday, in the 73 micro-containment zones declared by Punjab, there is a population of 41,254 who all would be subjected to rapid antigen testing.
Maximum micro-containment zones (14) are in Jalandhar district, followed by Ludhiana (13) and Amritsar (7).
There are four containment zones in the state – one each in districts of Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Pathankot and Bathinda – having a total population of 5,676. Any area or locality is declared a containment zone if there are 15 or more cases.
Prior to taking a decision to test the entire population in containment and micro-containment zones, Dr Bhaskar said, the symptomatic persons, high-risk patients, aged 60 and above, and those having co-morbodities were being subjected to antigen testing in such zones.
“Now, the entire population of the containment and micro-containment zones would be tested as majority of fresh cases come from such zones. This would help in early detection of the infection and timely isolation of the patients so that infection is not spread further and mortality rate is also prevented by ensuring early treatment,” said Dr Bhaskar.
While there has been continuous spike in fresh cases and Covid-19 deaths in the last one week beginning August 1, the state registered three biggest one-day spikes in new cases with the number touching all time high on Friday with 1,063 persons testing positive. Maximum deaths in a day were also reported during this week with 29 persons reported dead due to Covid-19 on August 5.
Overall, 21,930 cases of infections and 539 deaths have been reported from the state since the outbreak so far.
How antigen test works
As compared to Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test where RNA testing is done to find out genetic material of the virus, the rapid antigen testing looks for surface protein present on the virus, reducing the testing time from four to seven hours in RT-PCR (depending on whether RNA is extracted manually or with machine) to 30 minutes. The testing time in antigen testing is even lesser than the Trunat testing which is also based on testing genetic material of the virus and where the negative result is out in an hour and positive in two hours.
However, as per Dr Bhaskar, the sensitivity of antigen testing was lesser as compared to RT-PCR and Trunat as antigen testing may show a person who was actually positive as having tested negative for the infection.
Apart from antigen testing, Punjab has also ramped up RT-PCR testing. Each of the three government medical colleges in the state have a capacity of 3,000 daily tests.
Four more laboratories have been set up at Regional Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (RDDL) Jalandhar, Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (GADVASU), Ludhiana, Punjab Biotechnology Incubator, Mohali and Punjab Forensic Science Laboratory, Mohali.
According to Baba Farid University of Health Sciences Vice-Chancellor Dr Raj Bahadur, laboratories at GADVASU and RDDL have already started testing samples, initially each testing 100 and 40 samples, respectively. Dr Bahadur said the other two laboratories were also ready, but yet to receive samples, initially 40 each.
Once functional to full capacity, officials say that each of the four laboratories would be testing 250 samples daily. The formal inauguration of the laboratories would be done on August 10.
For laboratories in Ludhiana and Jalandhar, which have been set up at the facilities under the Animal Husbandry Department, Punjab Animal Husbandry Minister Tript Singh Bajwa has also been invited for joint inauguration with Medical Education and Research Minister O P Soni. Bajwa had tested positive for the infection and has recovered after being admitted to Fortis Hospital, Mohali last month. Punjab Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu has also been invited for inauguration of testing facility at GADVASU.
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