HOURS AFTER it advised “rapid antibody tests” in “hotspot areas” in an interim advisory on Thursday, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) left the decision to the states, and put out a list of such tests that had been approved earlier.
In its interim advisory earlier in the day, the ICMR said: “Population in hotspot areas may be tested using rapid antibody test, and antibody positives to be confirmed by RT-PCR using throat/ nasal swab. Antibody negatives to be quarantined at home.”
It said the recommendation would be finalised at the meeting of the national task force in the evening.
But this advisory was pulled down at night. Instead, the ICMR, put out a list of antibody-based (IgM, IgG) rapid tests that have been approved and validated. “Approved kits can be used directly after due approval from DCGI and intimation to ICMR,” it said.
Sources said the decision on whether to use the tests or not has now been left to the states.
While Kerala, which was among the earliest to report COVID-19 cases and has at least two of these hotspots, has already started using these rapid tests, other states like Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh have been pushing for it.
The rapid test, which uses blood samples instead of swabs, checks for the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV2) by ascertaining whether the person has developed antibodies against it. It takes less than 30 minutes. The swab test, on the other hand, comprises two steps — a screening test and a confirmatory test — and takes 8-9 hours. Though it is a faster test, the antibody test does not come positive until after a few days of infection.
That is why the ICMR position has been that serological testing is good for the epidemiological purpose of testing population level exposure, but may not be the best option for detecting cases.
While positive samples in the serological tests too will have to be sent for confirmatory tests, using the lengthier DNA testing process, those who test negative will be quarantined.
Some states, however, have been pushing for this “mass-scale” testing.
On Wednesday, Chhattisgarh Minister T S Singh Deo had written to Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan in this connection. “Requesting the Central Govt & @drharshvardhan to ensure that @ICMRDELHI formulates comprehensive guidelines for use and purchase of Rapid Tests for #COVID19 as these tests have been used effectively across the world and are needed for expanding testing capacities,” he had tweeted.
“Mass-scale testing will expedite the state’s screening procedure. Within five minutes of collection of blood sample, the government will come to know whether the person has developed some antibodies or not,” Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said in Mumbai on Thursday.
The ICMR has also advised enhanced testing in 20 hotspots, up from 10 on Monday. These areas include Nizamuddin and Dilshad Garden in Delhi, Pathanamthitta district in Kerala, Mumbai and Pune in Maharashtra, Mysuru and Chikkaballapur in Karnataka, Meerut in Uttar Pradesh, Bhilwara in Rajasthan, and Ahmedabad in Gujarat.
Here’s a quick Coronavirus guide from Express Explained to keep you updated: What can cause a COVID-19 patient to relapse after recovery? | COVID-19 lockdown has cleaned up the air, but this may not be good news. Here’s why | Can alternative medicine work against the coronavirus? | A five-minute test for COVID-19 has been readied, India may get it too | How India is building up defence during lockdown | Why only a fraction of those with coronavirus suffer acutely | How do healthcare workers protect themselves from getting infected? | What does it take to set up isolation wards?