Covid-19, the government plans to double every three days the number of samples tested through RT-PCR process – considered mandatory for accurate results – by government laboratories. The scope of testing is going to be further widened by a number of other tests, including those used for tuberculosis along with the newly-sanctioned rapid antibody tests for diagnosis of suspected cases.
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At present, government labs under the Indian Council of Medical Research (
ICMR) are testing over 10,000 samples a day. This is expected to reach 20,000 in about three days and increase further over the next few weeks as per the plan. Apart from this, around 250 TrueNat machines and 200 CB-NAAT machines (more popular as GeneXpert) used for tuberculosis testing will be deployed for testing Covid-19 suspects, official sources said.
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“TrueNat and CB-NAAT are cartridge-based nuclei acid amplification tests. One machine can do around 12 tests a day. We have already placed orders for the cartridge,” an official said. There are also two Roche’s COBAS-6800 machines, while orders for two more have been placed. The four machines can test up to 5,000 samples every day.
At its daily briefings, the health ministry has maintained that it is framing its testing strategy in response to the developing situation, keeping in mind the need to test those who require to be scanned and to ensure wasteful testing does not clog the system. After focusing on foreign travellers and their contacts who showed symptoms, the testing arc was widened to include all serious patients who reported flu-like illnesses.
Case monitoring was done by the well-developed Integrated Disease Management Programme. The increase in suspected cases due to the migration of workers, the
Tablighi Jamaat outbreak and the need to keep tabs on clusters has seen the government expand its testing coverage significantly.
This plan, drawn up by the empowered group on testing and isolation, was approved by the Prime Minister’s Office after it was discussed in detail in the joint meeting of the empowered groups on Saturday chaired by PM
Narendra Modi. “The response is guided by the increasing challenge and the changing colour of the crisis. It is important to respond differently with the changing scenario,” an official said. A total of 89,534 samples were tested till 9 pm on Sunday, according to ICMR.
The new plan also includes substantial number of rapid antibody-based blood tests as part of containment strategy in high-risk areas and hotspots. This mainly includes clusters and large migrations, gatherings or evacuees centres. The test kits should begin arriving from Wednesday. “We have already issued orders to test all symptomatic influenza like illnesses (ILI) and monitoring of such cases in health facilities,” the official said.
He added that the increasing number of tests will help rule out wider spread while also ensure that those infected are treated in time. Some experts have criticised India’s testing strategy and raised concerns about the sample size of testing being too little to rule out community transmission. However, the government has maintained that testing had to be process driven and could not merely be a “confidence building exercise”.